Monday, January 31, 2011

Zechariah, Gabriel, and Mary

I want to compare two different passages from Luke 1.  The first is the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist by the angel Gabriel.  This is Luke 1:5-22,
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.


Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.


Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”


Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”


The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”


Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
There are just a few features I want to highlight:
  • Zechariah was chosen here to be the high priest.  This was done by lot, so that God would choose. It's the same formula followed in choosing Judas' replacement, suggestive of the Apostles' roles as priests (Acts 1:26).
  • Zechariah is in a place of honor, as the high priest.  In Acts 23, the high priest Ananias orders Paul be slapped in the face.  Paul responds by saying, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” (Acts 23:3), but upon learning that the priest was the high priest, he immediately apologizes, and calls him the ruler of the people, quoting Exodus 22:28 (Acts 23:5).
  • Only the high priest was permitted to go into the inner sanctum of the Temple. The rest of the people, even the other priests, must wait outside.  Even when they start to worry that Zechariah has been in too long, they can do nothing but wait.  The reason for this is that the Holy of Holies, the Glory of the Lord Himself, is in the inner sanctum.
  • When Zechariah doesn't believe Gabriel, Gabriel's rebuke is essentially that while Zechariah stands before the Holy of Holies once a year, he (Gabriel) stands before God always. Even though he is standing before Zechariah, he speaks of himself in the present tense as standing before God.  Gabriel seems outraged that Zechariah (whose own authority derived from standing before God once a year) doesn't humble himself before Gabriel, who stands before God always.
Now compare that with Luke 1:26-30, in which the same angel Gabriel finds himself delivering news of another Pregnancy sixth months later:
And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God."
Again, a few features:

  • Gabriel is using a deferential greeting when he says, chairō, "Hail." It's the one that Judas uses when he's pretending to defer to Christ as Rabbi (Matthew 26:49), and the one that the Romans use sarcastically when mocking Christ as King (Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:18; John 19:3). With Zechariah, Gabriel begins by telling him not to be afraid.  With Mary, he first venerates Her, then tells Her not to be afraid.*
  • Note what Gabriel ties this deferential greeting to: (1) the Lord is with Mary, and (2) She's the most blessed amongst women.  The second of these refers to the graces God gave Mary, preserving Her from sin - it's why She's more blessed than even Eve, who was also created without sin.  But the first of these reasons is what concerns us here.  
  • If the high priest Zechariah outranks the other priests because he stands in the presence of God once a year, and Gabriel outranks Zechariah because he stands in the presence of God always, Mary is superior to them both, in that God the Son is to dwell within Her, to take His Saving Flesh and Blood from Hers, to be tied by the umbilical cord to Her, and so forth.  To stand in the Presence of God is massively inferior to physically Communing with Him the way that Mother and Son do.  
  • This core understanding, that the commingling is superior to simply being in one another's company is the logic behind not only the unitive act of marital sex (Genesis 2:24), but also behind the Eucharist (1 Cor. 10:17) and the Lamb's Supper in Heaven (Revelation 19:9).
In other words, Mary is above even the angels, for the reason that angels were by nature above even the high priest, and the high priest by status above other men.


* Now, it's true that chairō can mean "rejoice," just as Shalom can mean "hello," "goodbye," or "peace," but context dictates: here, it's being used deferentially.  He says, "Chairō, Charitoō" or "Hail, Full-of-Grace."  That is, he calls Mary by a title "Charitoō", and while there's debate over how best to define this title, no debate that I know of over whether or not it is a title.  In the other Bible uses of chairō to mean Hail, it's also followed by a title: "Hail, King of the Jews" and "Hail, Rabbi" to Jesus.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Aquinas of All Trades

Today, the Church celebrates one of Her greatest theologians, Saint Thomas Aquinas.  Christopher has some good quotes of his up.  The thing that I always find remarkable about St. Thomas Aquinas is that he was one of the most amazing Christians in virtually every field imaginable. There are some Saints who have particularly beautiful writings on Mary, or angels, or the Real Presence in the Eucharist, or the writings of the Church Fathers before them, or who are amazing theologians, or poets, those who give of themselves fully to the needy, and those rare few who communicate directly with God.  Aquinas was all of these.  He at once wrote some of the most intellectually serious theology ever penned, and easy-to-understand apologetics for the uneducated.  And the man was so humble and so slow to parade his own intellect that he was long assumed stupid, earning the nickname "The Dumb Ox" from his peers: even as the young St. Thomas began quietly committing most of the Bible to memory.

As Pope John Paul II has said, in Aquinas, "the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason."  That is, Aquinas was smart enough to know when his smarts weren't enough, reasonable enough to know that faith went where even reason could not.  To highlight a few of Aquinas' many gifts, and contributions to the Church he loved:


(1) Aquinas on the Five Proofs for God

This is rightfully the most famous section of his most famous work, the Summa Theologica.  To over-simplify what he says somewhat, basically:
  1. The universe, and everything in it, is in motion. It couldn't have set itself in motion, nor can there be perpetual motion.  Someone outside the universe had to set everything into motion. We know this to be God.
  2. Everything in the universe is caused by something else.  But this can't go on forever. There must be a First Cause. We know this First Cause to be God.
  3. The universe (and everything in it) is contingent.  That is, for the universe and its contents to have existed, certain factors must have been in place.  But there can't be an infinite chain of contingencies: there must be something or Someone Who relies on nothing else to exist, and Who created the conditions giving rise to the universe and its contents.  We know this non-contingent Being to be God.
  4. There are varying degrees of perfection: to say something is better, we suggest it is closer to the perfect Good.  This perfect Good is God.
  5. Everything in Nature is orderly and systematic, including non-intelligent things, like the cosmos. Just as an arrow being shot in a specific direction proves the existence of an intelligent archer, the universe having governing laws (like the laws of physics, e.g.), proves the existence of an intelligent God.
Knox's summary of Aquinas' "five ways" (a.k.a. the Quinque Viae) is better than anything I could write, so I'll leave this one at that.


(2) Aquinas on the Eucharist

In contrast to the formal logic of the Quinque Viae, Aquinas' loving ode to the Eucharist is much more poetic. Certainly, Aquinas can defend the theology of the Eucharist capably (as he does in Sections 73-83 here, with some of the best parts here), but he's not just some stuffy theologian. He's more fully a lover of Christ, a Christian, and he writes as such.  :
"Word made flesh, by Word He maketh
Very bread his flesh to be;
Man inwine Christ's Blood partaketh,
And if his senses fail to see,
Faith alone thetrue heart waketh,
To behold the mystery."
That's from his hymn Pange Lingua, written for the Feast of Corpus Christi (when the Church announced a new feast day celebrating Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharist, Aquinas responded by writing music for the entire Mass). I've posted the full hymn here.


(3) Aquinas on the Bible and the Church Fathers

As I mentioned earlier this week, Aquinas left us one of the finest compilations of the writings of the early Church Fathers' Scriptural exegesis.  He went through passage by passage of the Gospels, compiling the works of many of the great Saints of the early Church.  That source is the Catena Aurea (here's Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  That a man of this great a faith, and this sharp an intellect knew that to understand Scripture he should look to what the great Christians before him had said on it is a true testament to his humility, and a guide to all of us.


(4) Aquinas on Mary and Jesus

Aquinas' work on Mary is profound.  He walks through the Angelic Salutation (the first half of the "Hail Mary") piece by piece. There are a lot of good parts.  Aquinas, often called the Angelic Doctor, explained how angels were created superior to sinful man, but inferior to the Blessed Virgin, and that for this reason, sinful men cower in the presence of angels (and when they don't, the angels pull rank, as Gabriel does to the high priest Zechariah in Luke 1:19), while angels are humbled in Mary's presence (saluting Her "Hail," as one salutes royalty -- compare the angel's greeting to Mary in Luke 1:28 and the sarcastic salutation in Mark 15:18, which are identical greetings).

But the best part of the exegesis is the end, in which Aquinas focuses on the phrase "Blessed in the Fruit of Thy Womb," taken from Luke 1:42. I'll end it with this as well:
The sinner sometimes seeks in a thing what cannot be attained there, but the just man attains it. Proverbs 13:22: Thus Eve sought in the fruit and did not find there all the things that she desired, but the Blessed Virgin finds in her fruit everything that Eve desired. For Eve desired three things from the fruit. The first what the devil falsely promised her, that they would be as gods, knowing good and evil. You will be, that liar said, like gods, as is read in Genesis 3:5. And he lies because he is a liar, and the father of lies. Eve was not made like God when she ate the fruit, but unlike, because by sinning she receded from God her salvation and was expelled from paradise.


But this is what the Blessed Virgin and all Christians find in the fruit of her womb, because by Christ they are united with and made like unto God. 1 John 3:2: The second thing that Eve desired in the fruit was pleasure, because it is good to eat; but she did not find it and immediately knew that she was naked, and felt sorrow. But in the fruit of the Virgin we find sweetness and salvation. John 6:55: . Third, the fruit of Eve was beautiful in appearance, but more beautiful is the fruit of the Virgin on whom the angels desire to gaze. Psalm 44:3: ; this is because he is the splendor of his Father's glory.


Eve could not find in her fruit what no sinner can find in his sin. Therefore, what we desire, we should seek in the fruit of the Virgin. Here is a fruit blessed by God, because he has so filled him with every grace that it comes to us by showing him reverence. Ephesians 1:3: By the angels, Apocalypse 7:12: The Apostle, Philippians 2:11: Psalm 117:26:


So therefore is the Virgin blessed, but far more blessed is the fruit of her womb.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Was Peter Ever in Rome?

Lorraine Boettner's 1962 book Roman Catholicism is notorious for its egregious distortions of history and outright falsehoods.  Nevertheless, it remains popular amongst some Fundamentalist circles, because hey, it speaks ill of Catholicism, so how could it be wrong?  Here's a sample of the sort of thing I'm talking about:
The remarkable thing, however, about Peter’s alleged bishopric in Rome, is that the New Testament has not one word to say about it. The word Rome occurs only nine times in the Bible, and never is Peter mentioned in connection with it. There is no allusion to Rome in either of his epistles. Paul’s journey to that city is recorded in great detail (Acts 27 and 28). There is in fact no New Testament evidence, nor any historical proof of any kind, that Peter ever was in Rome. All rests on legend. The first twelve chapters of the book of Acts tell of Peter’s ministry and travels in Palestine and Syria. Surely if he had gone to the capital of the empire, that would have been mentioned. We may well ask, if Peter was superior to Paul, why does he receive so little attention after Paul comes on the scene?
All three of the claims Boettner makes here are false. Let's take them one by one:


I. "There is no allusion to Rome in either of [Peter's] epistles"

Wrong. In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter sends greetings to the global Church on behalf of the Church "in Babylon," which is used elsewhere in the New Testament (specifically, The Book of Revelation) to speak of Rome. Boettner knows that "Babylon" is often a reference for Rome -- in fact, he quotes Alexander Hislop's book The Two Babylons, which tries to argue that "modern Rome" is the fulfillment of ancient Babylon.  When it suits their fancy, the likes of Hislop and Boettner are ready to say that the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican are the same as modern Rome, that modern Rome is the same as the capital of the Roman Empire, and that these are what "Babylon" refers to in Revelation. When it doesn't suit their fancy, Babylon can't mean Rome.

Boettner even goes so far as to try and use 1 Peter 5:13 to "prove" that Peter went east to the literal city of Bablyon.  There are some glaring problems with this.  Fred Zaspel, of Word of Life Baptist Church, rejects the papacy, but concedes that 1 Peter 5:13 proves Peter to have gone to Rome.  He first showed why it couldn't have literally meant Babylon:
In 309 B.C. Antigonis I of Macedonia leveled Babylon. Later, in 275 B.C., Antiochus I took away the remaining civilian population and deported them to other cities. Pausanias, a Greek writer and geographer of the Roman period, said that there was absolutely nothing within the walls of Babylon. The city was later re-founded by Antiochus Epiphanes around 160 B.C., and it was later captured by the Parthians in 127 B.C. In the 30's B.C. Hercanus II was in residence there for a while and from him it is known that there was not much to the city at that time. The Roman geographer, Strabo, writing about the time of Christ said "the great city Babylon has become a wilderness." Evidently, the Euphrates River dried up during the time of the Parthians; after that, Babylon was no more (see Jeremiah 51:41-43). From Strabo to Trajan there is no mention of the city extant. Trajan (the Roman Emporer), eager to visit the infamous Babylon, was disappointed when he arrived at the site; it was only a wasted pile of rubble. Add to this observation that there is absolutely no tradition that Peter ever went to Babylon and that there was never a strong Mesopotamian church, it seems rather obvious that the Babylon of 1 Peter 5:13 can not be Babylon of Mesopotamia, the city of the exile.
So even the few people living in the ruins of Babylon didn't claim that 1 Peter 5:13 referred to them literally.

Most likely, Peter is using the coded term "Babylon" so that the Roman authorities don't realize that he's in Rome itself.  As Zaspel notes, the fact that Peter's companion in "Babylon" has the Roman name Marcus supports this, as does the Roman see's own claims (as we'll see in part two).  An article seeking to disprove that Peter was in Rome actually gives a good reason for thinking he was there:
The late Carsten Thiede is one scholar who sought to prove that the code word was in use prior to 70 C.E. and thus before Peter’s epistle was written, and that Peter was attempting to veil his whereabouts. But Thiede himself pointed out that “for an inhabitant of the Roman Empire it was perfectly possible, and indeed quite natural, to compare the ancient Babylonian Empire with that of Rome in terms of their respective size, splendour and power, and equally in a negative sense, in relation to their decadence and declining morals.” Thus, though Babylon may indeed have been used for Rome before 70 C.E., the purpose was not to veil the capital of the empire but to elevate its position in the world by emphasizing its lineage. So Thiede’s claim that Peter used the term Babylon to hide the fact that he was actually in Rome lacks credibility.
Vision Magazine thinks that this point disproves that Peter was in Rome.  It does the exact opposite.  Whether the term Babylon was a code name known only to Judeo-Christians, or a nickname known to the whole Empire is irrelevant: either way, it establishes that saying one was in "Babylon" meant that one was in Rome.

II. "There is in fact no [...] historical proof of any kind, that Peter ever was in Rome"

This is one of those claims that Boettner just asserts without evidence, and it's blatantly false. The Vision article I quoted above actually acknowledges that one of the two possible graves of Peter is under the high altar in St. Peter's.  Once again, they treat this like it hurts the Catholic case, when it helps it:
Embarrassingly, in the 1950s Roman Catholic archaeologists discovered a tomb in Jerusalem containing an ossuary—a bone box used in first-century Jewish burials—that bore the engraved name “Simon Bar Jona” (a name by which the apostle Peter is known in the Gospels). Not to be outdone, the Vatican soon produced its own archaeological evidence that Peter’s tomb and remains were buried under the high altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. At the heart of its argument was a sarcophagus discovered in the first half of the century, which authorities began examining more closely in the years after the Second World War.
So we know that a first-century man in about his sixties was buried in Rome, that he was proclaimed to be Peter, and that within a few centuries after his death, they moved his bones from the Catacombs into St. Peter's to better honor him.  The idea that this was just some other guy is sort of silly.

On the other hand, look at the treatment given the "Simon, son of Jonah" (Simon bar Yonah) of Jerusalem.  His gravesite was obscure, and none of the ancient Christians upheld the site as of the Apostle - nor did Jerusalem advance any serious claims to be the place where Peter died.  Simon and Jonah weren't exactly uncommon names, so the idea that another Simon bar Yonah existed is not exactly "embarassing."  What Vision doesn't mention is that there's another ossuary nearby to someone named Jesus.  Of course, the author of this article knows that the Jesus buried there isn't the Son of God, but another man by that name.  Likely, we're dealing with a Christian gravesite  Even today, if you look at cemeteries in Latin America, you'll see a lot of graves for those named in honor of Jesus, as well as Peter and the other great Saints.

After bringing up this evidence which it claims embarrasses the Church, Vision tries to call it a draw:
Unfortunately there is no way of proving whether either sarcophagus or ossuary contains the true remains of Peter. It may therefore be more fruitful to leave archaeology aside and focus on the historical literature that is available to everyone to consider.
Now Vision, which decided to punt on seriously considering the archaeological evidence, then claims that the Catholic Church's "claim to apostolic authority, it turns out, stands on no real evidence at all."  That's just not true.  Even though it's impossible to know to a scientific certainty that it's really Peter (there was no DNA testing at the time, so literally no possible evidence would be able to meet this standard), all the available evidence says it is.  He's of the right age and ethnicity, he died at the right time, he was recognized as Peter by those who knew him, and they moved his bones into a church named after him. You might just as well argue that Grant isn't buried in Grant's Tomb.

But let's move past the physical evidence, because we also have a massive amount of testimonial evidence that Peter was there, and that he died there.  To take only those examples from before 200 A.D.:

  • In 110, Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Romans, and admitted his inferiority to those who came before him, Ss. Peter and Paul: "I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant."
  • Eusebius, writing in about the 320s, tells of how Peter and Paul were killed under Nero and buried in Rome.  He says that this "account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day."  But even better, he quotes a priest named Caius, writing in the early part of the 100s, who says, "I can show the trophies of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who laid the foundations of this church." So Peter and Paul were not only buried in Rome, but their relics ("trophies") were preserved, just as in life (see Acts 19:11-12 for the healing power of Paul's relics).
  • In about 170, Bishop Dionysus of Corinth wrote to the Romans: “You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time.” This fragment also comes to us through Eusebius.
  • In 190, Irenaeus wrote in Against Heresies about the origins of the Gospels, saying, "Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter."  The "depature" in question is the martyrdom of the two, as Dionysus' account confirms.
To call this "no real evidence" and the lack of "any historical proof of any kind" is absurd. Most of what we know from history, including about Jesus Christ Himself, comes to us through written testimonies like these.   Ignatius, a student of the Apostle John's, is mentioning to the Romans about Peter and Paul's commanding the Romans during their lifetimes.  He's writing, mind you, while those who lived during  Peter and Paul's lifetime are still alive and in Rome.  If he's mistaken or lying, it'd be easy to call him on it. Certainly, if Peter had been on the other end of the known world in Babylon, Ignatius would have known this.

III. "If Peter was superior to Paul, why does he receive so little attention after Paul comes on the scene?"

This one's easy.  Boettner's arguing that the Book of Acts shifts from focusing on Peter to focusing on Paul. But Acts is written by St. Luke. In Luke 1:3, he says he's writing this to Theophilus. In Acts 1:1, he says he's writing to Theophilus to pick up where his last Book left off. Obviously, it's the same St. Luke.  And what do we know about St. Luke? Namely, that after being in  Peter's company, he went to work for St. Paul. Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, and Philemon 1:24 all contain express mentions of Luke working alongside  Paul.  No great mystery here.

Likewise, if a priest studies in Rome, and then moves back to serve a parish in Tulsa, his diary would probably include a lot of stuff about the hierarchy in Rome, then a lot of stuff about the church in Tulsa.  Does that mean that Rome's inferior to Tulsa in rank? But now the argument's reached its breaking point: the evidence shows clearly that Peter described himself in Rome ("Babylon") in the Bible, and that the early Christians knew he was there and that he died there. His body still exists for the world to see.  I can think of no other evidence that opponents could want.  A massive number of Protestant historians and scholars concede the point, because it's pure foolishness not to.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fr. Most and St. Paul on Justification and OSAS

Fr. William Most wrote a sharp but very insightful piece on Luther, entitled "Luther Writes Obituary of His Own Church."  What makes it worth the read is his use of Luther's own writings, showing that Luther still clearly struggled with the question that perhaps he was wrong and the Church was right, long after he left.

Fr. Most quotes Luther from Exposition of Psalm 130, 4, in which he said of sola fide: "If this article stands, the church stands; if it collapses, the church collapses."  Fr. Most takes on the challenge, showing that sola fide, as taught by Luther, isn't the same as the salvation by faith taught by Paul, and that an increasing number of Protestants are realizing this.
First, justification: Luther thought that a sinner who is forgiven is still totally corrupt, unable to get away from sinning constantly. Did St. Paul mean that? Not really. He spoke of Christians as a "new creation" (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). They are made over from scratch - not at all the same as the same old total corruption! And he says more than once that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us as in a temple (1 Cor 3:17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16). Can we imagine the Holy Spirit living in a temple that is total corruption?


Even more telling, if possible, is the idea St. Paul has of faith. Luther did not even make a good try at finding out what St. Paul meant by that word. He just assumed what appealed to his scrupulous fears and said faith meant confidence the merits of Christ apply to me. But there is an obvious way to find out what St. Paul really meant by faith -- read every place where Paul uses the word faith, and related words -- we can use a Concordance to locate them - keep notes, and add them up. If we do that here is what we get: "If God speaks a truth, faith requires that we believe it in our minds (cf. 1 Ths 2:13; 2 Cor 5:7). If God makes a promise, faith requires that we be confident He will keep it (cf. Gal 5:5; Rom 5:1). If God tells us to do something, we must obey (cf. Rom 1:5; 6:16). All this is to be done in love (Gal 5:6). (Obeying does not earn salvation, but we must be members of Christ and like Him, obedient unto death: Rom 5:19).


How does that compare with just being confident the merits of Christ apply to you? Quite a difference. So, by his own standard, Luther's church has fallen. What he thought was a great discovery was just a great mistake. And yet his whole system stands or falls on his error, as he himself said.


There is a large standard Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. It first appeared in four very large volumes, with alphabetical articles on everything pertaining to the Bible. In 1976 there appeared a Supplement volume, which contained some new articles, and some older articles revised. This latest volume does have a new article on faith, on p. 333. We look for the subsection on St. Paul -- for St. James uses the word faith very differently. What do we find? Precisely the same as what we explained above. Faith is a complex of belief, confidence, obedience, love. The article even explains Paul's words in Romans 1:5: "the obedience of faith" to mean, "the obedience which faith is." Luther thought we do not have to obey any commandment at all if we have faith - but he did not see that faith itself includes obedience to God's commands!


How sadly wrong could he be? By his own standard, the article on which his church would rise or fall has fallen.
So the problem with Luther's thesis was not really whether or not we're saved by faith, or even faith alone, but what "faith" is. Fr. Most presents a clear four-point understanding of the Catholic view of "faith," as used in Scripture:

  1. If God speaks a truth, faith requires that we believe it in our minds (cf. 1 Thes 2:13; 2 Cor 5:7).
  2.  If God makes a promise, faith requires that we be confident He will keep it (cf. Gal 5:5; Rom 5:1). 
  3. If God tells us to do something, we must obey (cf. Rom 1:5; 6:16). 
  4. All this is to be done in love

Before the talk of justification can get anywhere helpful, I think there needs to be more work here, on basic definitions of terms. (I suggest to any Protestants who want to argue this point, first establish where you agree or disagree with Fr. Most's definition and his use of Scripture in support of the same.)

After this, Fr. Most takes on the notion of "eternal security" or "Once Saved, Always Saved," saying:
According to Luther, if one once takes Christ as His Savior, he enters infinity on the credit page - then no matter how much he has sinned, is sinning, will sin, the infinity of Christ outweighs it. So he is infallibly saved. Some add: He cannot lose that security. [Compare Protestant charges that indulgences are a permission to sin!. Here it is, in the big time!]


St. Paul himself did not think he had infallible salvation. In 1 Cor 9:24-27, Paul compares Christian life to the great games at Corinth. Anyone who hoped for the prize had to go into athletic training, and so deny himself a lot. Only one could get the prize. But Christians can all get it, and their prize is eternal life, not just a crown of leaves. Some Protestants say Paul is just urging them to gain something extra. But no, in context, Paul has been urging them for some time to avoid scandalizing another by eating meat offered to idols which the other thinks is forbidden. In 1 Cor 8:11-13 Paul pleads that "the weak one will perish [eternally] because of your knowledge, a brother because of whom Christ died."


Paul himself, even with his heroic work for Christ, does not think he has infallible salvation. Rather, in 1 Cor 9:26-27 he says [literal version]: "I hit my body under the eyes and lead it around like a slave, so that after preaching to others, I may not be disqualified [in the race]." He alludes to Greek boxing - no padded gloves - a blow under the eyes would usually knock a man out. The victor put a rope around the neck of the loser, and led him around the stadium like a slave. Not sportsmanlike!. But we get the point.


Again, right after this, in chapter 10, Paul gives many instances of the first People of God. They did not have it infallibly made. Rather, many were struck dead by God. So in 10:12: "He who thinks he is standing, let him watch out so he does not fall." No infallible salvation in sight here!
In between these two points, Fr. Most talks about the error of sola Scriptura, that there's no way to take "the Bible alone" to show which books are in the Bible. He related the story of Baptist Professor Gerald Birney Smith, who in 1910, concluded that there was no way of knowing which books were and weren't Scripture (since he refused to believe that the Church could have the authority to set them). Smith is right on one point: if there is no Church to say which books are canonical, we're left with guesswork at best.

All in all, it's a pretty sweeping critique of Luther's position, and shows how the views he articulated on sola fide, sola Scriptura, and OSAS don't hold up to serious scrutiny.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Awesome Resource for Understanding Scripture

Do you find yourself struggling with specific passages of the Gospels, and wondering how to understand them?  Perhaps you wonder how Matthew 24 should be understood, for example.  One of the most surefire ways of getting the interpretation right is to look at how centuries of early Christians understood the passage.  But poring through hundreds of old documents looking for something on Matthew 24 isn't very efficient.

Fortunately, folks like St. Thomas Aquinas exist.  He compiled the Catena Aurea ("Golden Chain"), which is a passage-by-passage compilation of the writings of the Early Church Fathers on every section of the four Gospels.  Want to know what Augustine wrote on John 3? Aquinas can tell you.  He compiled lists for the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Fortunately, the Internet made a good thing even better.  Now, the Litteral Christian Library (an already amazing resource, the product of the Baptist-turned-Catholic John Litteral) has built upon the Catena Aurea.  In fact, it has:
Old Testament Bible Commentaries

Pentateuch: Genesis-Deuteronomy

Historical: Joshua-Macabees

Wisdom Books: Job-Sirach

Prophets: Isaiah- Malachi


New Testament Bible Commentaries

The Gospels

Acts

Letters of St. Paul

Catholic Letters

Revelation

As well as The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers. "The Gospels" section alone has all of the Catena Aurea sorted by hyperlinked chapters, as well as a lot of resources Aquinas didn't include.

This resource is amazing.  Draw upon the collective wisdom of the best Christian writers and thinkers for the last two thousand years.  If that doesn't enhance your study of the Bible, I don't know what will!

Monday, January 24, 2011

March for Life Recap

As planned, I went to the March for Life today.  It was a thrilling experience, as always.  It was also a rather chilly experience, as the temperatures were in the upper 20s or so.  A few quick notes:

  • One of the most impressive developments is the Vigil Mass.  It's less well-known than the March itself, but it's an incredible thing.  I wasn't able to go this year, but I've heard it was great.  The Mass was celebrated by Cardinal DiNardo and concelebrated by four other Cardinals, and a whopping 39 Bishops.  Normally, it's exciting just to experience a Bishop celebrate Mass,  so I'm sure that seeing forty-four of the successors of the Apostles celebrating Mass together in one place is just unbelievable, to say nothing of the fact that five of them were Cardinals.  Some 10,000 people turned out for the Mass (which was in the beautiful Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception).  That figure in itself is impressive, since the Mass was scheduled to run for three hours, and there have been a ton of other Masses. 

 
  • The day of the March kicks off with more Mass.  At the Verizon Center, there was an enormous Youth Rally and Mass going from 7:30 this morning until 11:30, with a rally, confessions, the rosary, and Mass.  There was another mega-Mass at the D.C. Armory, and basically every Catholic church in D.C. seemed to be overflowing with marchers.  I avoided the stadium-Masses, opting for St. Mary's in Chinatown, but even it was standing-room only by the time 10:30 Mass began.
  • My guess is that a couple hundred thousand people came out.  Beyond that, many more wanted to come but couldn't because of things like work. EWTN covered it, which was nice, for those who couldn't make the trip.
  • The crowd was overwhelming young, and majority female.  In contrast, the sole counter-protester I  saw was an older man.  Not exactly the stereotypes of the two movements.  A lot of signs and stickers saying "We are the Pro-Life Generation."  Indeed. 
  • The speakers today were very good.  There were basically two groups: the politicans, and the religious leaders. As for the politicians, there were a lot more than in past years, a testament to November's midterm elections.  There was a lot of excitement on both sides of the stage, as freshmen House members sought to prove their pro-life bona fides.  There was, in total, one Democrat who spoke - Rep. Lipinski (D-OH), who was also one of the only Democrats to vote against Obamacare.  He's an authentically pro-life Catholic, and his short speech (about how overturning Roe is going to require pro-lifers in both parties) got sustained applause and cheering from the crowd.  Many of the politcians focused on H.R. 3, the House bill that will end taxpayer funding for abortion.  The bill looks great, and it'll be interesting to see how Democrats respond to such a common-sense measure.  Even a lot of pro-choicers seem to support the idea.  Quite a few pols quoted Scripture, and were on the whole rather optimistic. 
  • A few of the religious leaders were more sharply critical. In particular, the A.M.E. pastor attacked (by name) Haley Barbour and a few other Republicans for wanting to call a "truce" on abortion to focus on the economy.  In a moving speech / sermon, the pastor said we can't call a truce while more than 40 out of every hundred pregnancies in New York City ends with a child killed in the womb.  He warned everyone, "Democrat, Republican, or Tea Party" not to give in to the abortion industry.  The Orthodox Jewish rabbi was equally critical, and there was a general "Jeremiad" tone to some of the speeches. 
  • All in all, it created a good balance.  While the religious leaders reminded us just how dire the problem was (and how we shouldn't trust the politicians too much), the politicians promised a new era of pro-life politics.   Having one without the other would have encouraged despair (on the one side) or false hope (on the other).
  • The only real criticism I had was that it was perhaps too political -- by which I mean that the speakers had Roe in their sights (which is great), but didn't offer a whole lot of practical advice for what people should do while Roe was still the law of the land.  Almost every solution involved someone in Congress doing something, and us encouraging them to do it.  It strikes me that there's real untapped potential there - other than calling their Congressman, what should ordinary citizens do to discourage women from having abortions, or to shut down abortion clinics, etc.?  I think a couple hundred thousand people would have loved that answer.
  • The best line of the day came from someone (I can't remember who) who said that we live in a society where we worry about throwing away a plastic bottle, but not an unborn human life.  It put things in perspective, and quickly.
  • The best speech of the day was a short one from a white Kansas Congressman, who brought his wife and their African-American daughters up on stage.  These young women were adopted, and were a testament to their parents' pro-life bona fides.  Adoption agencies have a hard time placing African-American children in general into adoptive homes, so seeing a non-black couple willing to shoulder the stigma of having a mixed-race family is awesome.  Re: my earlier criticism, this is the sort of inspiring message which the crowd went nuts for, and I think it meant more than legislative promises (as important as those definitely are).
All in all, it was pretty amazing.

Friday, January 21, 2011

March for Life is Monday!

Tomorrow marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  Monday marks the 38th annual March for Life.  If you can't join the March in D.C., see if they've got one nearer to where you are.  If you can't make any of them, just be with us in spirit.  For every marcher there, there are countless more people watching on EWTN or praying for the March.

The picture below doesn't nearly capture how huge the March is (we're talking about hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers, mostly young (and a clear majority female), who are met by as many as a couple dozen graying pro-choicers.  The March serves as a real sign of hope, particularly after things like the Pennsylvania massacre.

File:Marchforlife2009alldotorg.JPG

The Overpopulation Debate at a Glimpse

Children too are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth.
Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate.
- Psalm 127:3-5

The Economist publishes a "Daily Chart."  It's a nice change of pace: the entire day's post consists of a chart, and a paragraph explaining what the chart means.

I. Overpopulation is an Unfounded Fear
Two of these charts speak volumes about the overpopulation debate. Here's the first, from November 17, 2010:



Malthus, if you're not aware, is the founding father of overpopulation hysteria.  He was convinced that at the pace people were reproducing, the world would quickly run out of resources like timber, and it would ultimately lead to mass starvation.  In the twentieth century, folks like Paul Ehrlich claimed the same thing, selling countless books like Population Bomb fear-mongering (Ehrlich and others typically came from natural science backgrounds, and expected humans to behave like animals; this is almost certainly one of the major reasons they were so consistently wrong, and yet so convinced of their own predicted).

Ehrlich in particular claimed that food prices would go through the roof from the 1970s to the year 2000, even predicting the demise of England (no, seriously).  Well, the chart above shows how profoundly wrong the neo-Malthusians were.  Food prices are significantly cheaper than in 1980, and have been for each of the past thirty years.


II. "Gray-Out" is All Too Real
The second chart comes from November 19, 2010, and it tells the other side of the overpopulation story.  Governments around the world encouraged birth control, sterilization, and abortion (sometimes voluntary, sometimes forced) in order to prevent the overpopulation they'd been convinced would occur.  In reality, the threat these nations faced wasn't too many children, but too few.  One in particular, Japan, is now in a particularly perilous situation.  As the Economist explains:
FOR about 50 years after the second world war the combination of Japan’s fast-growing labour force and the rising productivity of its famously industrious workers created a growth miracle. Within two generations the number of people of working age increased by 37m and Japan went from ruins to the world’s second-largest economy. In the next 40 years that process will go into reverse. The working-age population will shrink so quickly that by 2050 it will be smaller than it was in 1950, and four out of ten Japanese will be over 65. Unless Japan’s productivity rises faster than its workforce declines, which seems unlikely, its economy will shrink.



Watch the very bottom of the chart, since it show the number of children.  In 1950, we're looking at about 11 million Japanese under five; today, it's closer to half that.  With that few children, it's going to be a real challenge for the next generation to create economic activity to provide for their aging parents, so it's likely many young Japanese will fill unable to settle down and start a family, perpetuating the trend (the 2055 forecast shows this quite well, with only about 2 million Japanese under five).  About the only two ways out are for the Japanese to start having a lot of kids, or for the nation to rely increasingly on non-Japanese workers, from groups who are having a lot of kids (and perhaps needless to say, this solution can lead to profound social instability in its own right, as we saw with Germany's flirtation with cheap Turkish workers in the 1970s).


III. Conclusion


So basically, overpopulation - not a serious problem. The sky-is-falling predictions that overpopulation fanatics were trumpeting half a century ago (and in Malthus' case, a few centuries ago) turned out to be radically incorrect.  The theorists failed to account for the fact that with more human beings, you get more folks like Norman Borlaug (the man who single-handedly is believed to have saved a billion lives during his lifetime through the so-called "Green Revolution").  Turns out, with more people, you get more innovation and an overall better quality of life (which is why populated countries and metropolises tend to be better places to live than, say, Middle of Nowhere, Greenland).

On the other hand, underpopulation - a much bigger risk than most people realize. The economics here are solid, and the logic's pretty irrefutable. Fewer kids today mean fewer workers tomorrow.  And fewer kids today mean fewer potential parents tomorrow, which is why we see places like Japan with a downward population spiral.  The population there's actually falling, and there's virtually nothing the government can do about it.  Perhaps instead of worrying about butterflies (Ehrlich is a biologist by trade, with a specialty in studying butterflies), we should be worrying about the demographic tailspins of other industrialized countries, like Japan and much of Western Europe.  Those risks - which are all too real, rather than 'sound right on paper' - are ones that virtually no one seems ready to face.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What the Vatican's "Irish Letter" Really Said

The news media is covering a letter sent from the Vatican to the bishops of Ireland allegedly ordering the cover-up of child sex abuse. The letter said no such thing, but provides an excellent opportunity to example the dangers of the proposed mandatory reporting requirement.

I. The Background
In 1997, the Bishops of Ireland were considered a mandatory reporting requirement for sexual abuse reporting.  They spoke with the Vatican (specifically, the Congregation for the Clergy) about how to punish sexual predator priests canonically (i.e., what the procedure was for defrocking the priest in question), and about the following proposed rule (available here):
2.2. Recommended Reporting Policy
2.2.1 In all instances where it is known or suspected that a child has been, or is being, sexually abused by a priest or religious the matter should be reported to the civil authorities. Where the suspicion or knowledge results from the complaint of an adult of abuse during his or her childhood, this should also be reported to the civil authorities.
2.2.2 The report should be made without delay to the senior ranking police officer for the area in which the abuse is alleged to have occurred. Where the suspected victim is a child, or where a complaint by an adult gives rise to child protection questions, the designated person within the appropriate health board/health and social services board should also be informed. A child protection question arises, in the case of a complaint by an adult, where an accused priest or religious holds or has held a position which has afforded him or her unsupervised access to children.
2.2.3 The Advisory Committee recognises that this recommended reporting policy may cause difficulty in that some people who come to the Church with complaints of current or past child sexual abuse by a priest or religious seek undertakings of confidentiality. They are concerned to protect the privacy of that abuse of which even their immediate family members may not be aware. Their primary reason in coming forward may be to warn Church authorities of a priest or religious who is a risk to children.
2.2.4 The recommended reporting policy may deter such people from coming forward or may be perceived by those who do come forward as an insensitive and heavy-handed response by Church authorities. This is particularly so where the complaint relates to incidents of abuse many years earlier.
2.2.5 Nonetheless, undertakings of absolute confidentiality should not be given but rather the information should be expressly received within the terms of this reporting policy and on the basis that only those who need to know will be told.
Consider the implications of these proposed requirements:


II. The Effect on Innocent Priests

If you so much as suspect that a priest did something wrong, you have to report it immediately, without delay. No calling in the priest and speaking to possible witnesses to collaborate the victim's story to make sure that the accusation is credible.  Once you suspect, you report.  Obviously, the potential for false accusations (of which there have been countless, something which sometimes gets overlooked) is very high.  And the damage that a false sex-abuse accusation can do to an innocent priest's reputation, and his relationship with his bishop (especially when the bishop himself is the one who submitted the false report) is high. We've seen in the United States cases of sex-abuse hysteria (most notably, in the 1980s, when numerous daycare workers and teachers were falsely accused of child sex abuser), and the rest is genuine.  Part of protecting the innocent includes the priests -- although admittedly, bishops gave this concern too much weight, given the innocent children whose safety was in much more grave danger.


III. The Effect on Victims

Here's something I haven't heard mentioned in the mainstream media, but which needs to be brought up: the only group of people that a mandatory reporting requirement would cover are those who aren't going to go to the police otherwise.  Think about it.  If they've gone, or are going to go, no need for a mandatory requirement.  So we're dealing only with the cases that someone is afraid to, or refuses to, speak to the police.  There are a lot of reasons that this might be.  Four that I've heard:
  1. The victim has come forward on his/her own, as an adult, and doesn't want their spouse or parents to learn about this terrible event;
  2. They're afraid of their abuser, and of retaliation from the abuser priest or his supporters; 
  3. They've moved on, and don't want to testify in open court, being forced to relive the entire experience;
  4. The statute of limitations is lapsed, so the law can't touch the predator priest.
So why do these people still come to the Church? Easy. To remove the priest from the active priesthood, so he's not in a position to molest any more children. 

Now consider what this standing policy of mandatory reporting would mean.  Effectively, the Church would become another branch of the police, for reporting purposes.  Those who want to avoid publicity, or trial, or revenge and recriminations now have to avoid not only the police, but the Church as well.  Or to put it more simply: in what case would a person be (a) unwilling to go to the police, but (b) willing to go to the Church, knowing that the Church would immediately go to the police?  Perhaps there are a few cases, but it seems that this is a rarety.  More likely, when victims learn that going to the Church means police involvement, they'll simply not go to the Church.

The proposed policy even admits as much in 2.2.4, when it says that the "recommended reporting policy may deter such people from coming forward."  That's an enormous risk, because even after the statute of limitations has lapsed, the Church is still capable of making sure that the priest is kept away from children. As 2.2.3 notes, victims' "primary reason in coming forward may be to warn Church authorities of a priest or religious who is a risk to children."  That goal is only accomplished if they feel comfortable coming to the Church.  So the unintentional effect of this policy may, perversely, be less reporting to the Church, less action against predator priests, and more sex abuse victims.

Besides this, there's still the loss of privacy and the rest.  Those who do come forward now do so at a steeper price, facing humiliation, subpoenas, media involvement, recriminations, and the rest.  In one case, a sex abuser priest actually attempted to kill his victim for coming forward to the Church and the police.  In cases where the statute of limitations has expired, for example, and the law is powerless to act against the abuser priest, it's hard to justify these costs to the victims we're supposed to be helping.  If they wanted police involvement, they could ask for it at any time.

IV. A Better Way

Just to be clear, here's what I think they should have done (and should be doing) instead: they should have (a) immediately acted on credible abuse allegations to prevent predator priests from striking again -- pulling them out of active ministry, and if the evidence warranted it, warning parents of a possible threat; (b) spoken with the accused priest, and (c) if the evidence supported it, encouraged victims and their families to speak to police, while providing all the spiritual and moral support possible for the wounded.  After all, people don't come to the bishop to get a priest arrested. They come to the bishop to make sure that the priest isn't able to continue to prey upon children -- the only real remedy in cases where the statute of limitations has expired, for example, or the evidence is insufficient to hold up in court.

Beyond this, there will likely be times where the facts of the individual case warrant reporting the case to the police - where the priest's bad acts are criminal and still punishable, where he poses an ongoing threat despite the Church's action, etc. But those are cases for prudential judgment, not an inflexible policy.

V. The Vatican's Response

The Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland (essentially the Vatican's Ambassador) responded to the Irish bishops with this letter. While most of the letter deals with the necessity of canon law (as with civil law, you can't disregard due process just because you're personally sure the guy is guilty, so the Nuncio stressed the importance of punishing them in accordance with canon law), one sentence turned to the question of the proposed rule, stating that in particular, "the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature.”  This is almost undeniably true.  Not only do the accused have rights under canon law, but there are moral elements in making what you think might be a false report against a priest.  The nuncio didn't say the Irish bishops couldn't implement the requirement, but that it seemed very problematic.  In his letter, he also noted that:
Since the policies on sexual abuse in the English speaking world exhibit many o[f] the same characteristics and procedures, the Congregation is involved in a global study of them. At the appropriate time, with the collaboration of the interested Episcopal Conferences and in dialogue with them, the Congregation will not be remiss in establishing some concrete directives with regard to these Policies.
In other words, while this policy has some serious problems, something needs to be done, and the proposed rule might help guide the Vatican in shaping what that something is. All told, a level-headed and reasonable reply to a well-meaning but dangerous policy.  If it's true that the unintended consequence of mandatory reporting requirements is that more sexual abuse remains covered (and this seems to be at least a strong possibility), then the Vatican was right in urging caution -- particularly if the long-term goal is a broader, better thought out procedure.

VI. The Media's Misrepresentation
The response to this letter by the mainstream media has been shocking, even by their already low standards.  The New York Times ran a story on Tuesday entitled “Vatican Warned Bishops Not to Report Child Abuse."  This headline is simply a lie.  At no point in the letter does the Vatican even hint that you shouldn't report child abuse -- the closest it got was saying that establishing a mandatory requirement might pose moral and canonical requirements.

Think about it this way: Republicans are mostly against the "individual mandate," which would force people to buy health insurance.  Does that mean that Republicans are warning the public not to buy health insurance?  That conclusion would be absurd.  Here, we quite clearly see the opposite, since the Vatican was trying to determine what the global policy should be for creating a reporting requirement.

No bishop - none - could have construed that letter to mean, "you're not allowed to report child abuse."  Nothing in the letter says or even hints at this, and nothing in the Times piece supports its accusation.  Remember, the bishops weren't asking, "Can we report sex abuse to the authorities?"  That answer is obvious: they can, and in some cases, must.  The question that they asked was (in essence), "Should we make reporting mandatory, regardless of the circumstances or evidence?"  Those aren't the same question at all, and they don't have the same answer.

In its very limited defense, the Times has now changed it's headline from the blatantly-false to the more accurate "Vatican Letter Warned Bishops on Abuse Policy." Nevertheless, the piece is still chock full of the sort of slander that would get folks sued in any other context.  For example:
The document appears to contradict Vatican claims that church leaders in Rome never sought to control the actions of local bishops in abuse cases, and that the Roman Catholic Church did not impede criminal investigations of child abuse suspects.  
Abuse victims in Ireland and the United States quickly proclaimed the document to be a “smoking gun” that would serve as important evidence in lawsuits against the Vatican.
“The Vatican is at the root of this problem,” said Colm O’Gorman, an outspoken victim of abuse in Ireland who is now director of Amnesty International there. “Any suggestion that they have not deliberately and willfully been instructing bishops not to report priests to appropriate civil authorities is now proven to be ridiculous.”
It's these allegations that are ridiculous. Read the document, and point to anywhere - anywhere - where bishops are "deliberately and willfully" instructed "not to report priests to appropriate civil authorities." You won't find it, because it's not there. Likewise, you'll find nothing impeding criminal investigations, because the question was on whether the bishops should create a new policy, not on whether they should report sex abuse.

Update: By the way, both Jimmy Akin and GetReligion have good explanations of what actually happened, and why the media is creating a story out of whole cloth here.  GetReligion also links to the original version of the article, which is just shockingly bad. It actually claimed that that the letter said that "the bishops must handle all accusations through internal church channels," and that disobedient bishops could "face repercussions when their abuse cases were heard in Rome."  This lie got traded out for O'Gorman's lie when they rewrote the article.  (As usual, the Times completely overhauled the article without so much as a correction or apology at the bottom explaining how badly mangled their initial claims were).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Doctor Who Kills Babies For a Living...

...accused of having killed babies.
A 69-year-old Philadelphia doctor who performed abortions was charged by prosecutors on Wednesday with the murder of seven newborns who were killed with scissors and of a female patient who died of an overdose of anesthetics.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a family practitioner who had not been certified in obstetrics or gynecology, oversaw a medical practice that regularly performed late-term abortions.

On at least seven occasions, babies born alive during the sixth, seventh and eighth month of pregnancies were killed by having their spinal cords severed with a pair of scissors, District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement.

A grand jury investigation found that although complaints about Dr. Gosnell and his Women Medical Society clinic in west Philadelphia had been made to a variety of government health and medical licensing officials for more than 20 years — including about the deaths of women during routine abortions — the doctor was never officially sanctioned.

Most of Dr. Gosnell’s patients were low-income immigrant and minority women who were administered anesthesia on a sliding pay scale, the district attorney’s office said.

The medical office also reused unsanitary instruments and allowed unlicensed employees, including a high school student, to perform abortions and to give anesthesia to patients.

Prosecutors said Wednesday that a search of Dr. Gosnell’s clinic had turned up bags and bottles that contained aborted fetuses.

“Jars containing the severed feet of babies lined a shelf,” the statement said.
The story is a horrifying insight into the type of person who performs "late-term abortions" for a living. Other sources have mentioned that Gosnell’s wife and six other people were also arrested in relation to this.

Update: The BBC is reporting that Gosnell's clinic murdered "hundreds" of newborns in this manner.

Early Church Fathers on the Eucharist (c. 300 - 400 A.D.)

This is the last in a three-part series on the Church Fathers on the Eucharist. Part I looked at the writings of Church Fathers from the time of the Apostles until 200 A.D. Part II looked at the Fathers from about 200 to 300, and today, we're looking at the Fathers from 300 to 400.

To set the stage, it's during this period that we get the Council of Nicea (and thus, the Nicene Creed), the Council of Carthage (a local North African Council which reaffirms in clear terms the Catholic canon of Scripture, which Pope Damasus readily agrees with), and some of the best Christian writers of all time are on the scene. Greats like St. Athanasius, who nearly single-handedly saved the Church from heresy, and St. Augustine, the most important Church Father in the West, close out this century. And throughout it all, from the pre-Nicene period to the age of Augustine, we see a constant reaffirmation of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and an affirmation that the words of consecration change bread and wine into His Body and Blood. Here's a sample:


I. Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 310 A.D.)

Eusebius is generally remembered as the first Church historian, and he was that. But he also wrote in defense of the faith in places like Demonstratio Evangelica, which means "The Proof of the Gospel."  I should note at the outset that this is a poor translation, but it's the only one I could find in full.  In any case, in Book 1, he writes that all of the sacrifices of the Old Testament prefigure Christ's perfect Sacrifice, and that this Sacrifice does away with all the forerunners, explaining:
While then the better, the great and worthy and divine sacrifice was not yet available for men, it was necessary for them by the offering of animals to pay a ransom for their own life, and this was fitly a life that represented their own nature. Thus did the holy men of old, anticipating by the Holy Spirit that a holy victim, dear to God and great, would one day come for men, as the offering for the sins of the world, believing that as prophets they must perform in symbol his sacrifice, and shew forth in type what was yet to be. But when that which was perfect was come, in accordance with the predictions of the prophets, the former sacrifices ceased at once because of the better and true Sacrifice. 
[...] 
Since then according to the witness of the prophets the great and precious ransom has been found for Jews and Greeks alike, the propitiation for the whole world, the life given for the life of all men, the pure offering for every stain and sin, the Lamb of God, the holy sheep dear to God, the Lamb that was foretold, by Whose inspired and mystic teaching all we Gentiles have procured the forgiveness of our former sins, and such Jews as hope in Him are freed from the curse of Moses, daily celebrating His memorial, the remembrance of His Body and Blood, and are admitted to a greater sacrifice than that of the ancient law, we do not reckon it right to fall back upon the first beggarly elements, which are symbols and likenesses but do not contain the truth itself.
So the daily Eucharist is a participation in Christ's perfect Sacrifice (but not a re-Sacrifice of Christ, as he makes clear, but a Memorial).  And he notes that we Christians don't need to fall back upon "the first beggarly elements" which are mere symbols.  Clearly, then, his understanding of the Eucharist wasn't that it was a mere symbol.  The view of the Lord's Supper that some Protestants take (that It's simply symbolic, a reminder of the true Sacrifice) is a mirror image of what Eusebius describes as now-worthless in the first paragraph.

Later, Eusebius explains the two sacrifices we offer to God: His Son (in the Eucharist; see 1 John 2:2) and a broken and contrite heart (cf. Psalm 51:17; see 1 Peter 2:5):
So, then, we sacrifice and offer incense: On the one hand when we celebrate the Memorial of His great Sacrifice according to the Mysteries He delivered to us, and bring to God the Eucharist for our salvation with holy hymns and prayers; while on the other we consecrate ourselves to Him alone and to the Word His High Priest, devoted to Him in body and soul.
Nota bene: the Eucharist is offered "for our salvation."


II. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (350 A.D.)

Cyril has a lot of great stuff on the Eucharist, but nothing is as clear as Catechetical Lecture XXII.  You can find one good translation here, and another here.  The entire lecture is about 1 Corinthians 11:23, so it's heavily Eucharistic.  In it, he says:
On the night he was betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said: “Take, eat: this is my body”. He took the cup, gave thanks and said: “Take, drink: this is my blood”. Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, This is my blood, who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood?
Therefore, it is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. His body is given to us under the symbol of bread, and his blood is given to us under the symbol of wine, in order to make us by receiving them one body and blood with him. Having his body and blood in our members, we become bearers of Christ and sharers, as Saint Peter says, in the divine nature.
The part I bold is a perfect summary of the Catholic view in a nutshell.  Bread looks vaguely like flesh, and wine vaguely like blood.  In eating the bread, it becomes part of our flesh, and in drinking the wine, it becomes part of our flesh.  These are no mere coincidences.  Christ uses these visible elements so that we can begin to grasp the profound invisible reality occurring at the Eucharist.  But Cyril couldn't be clearer that it's only a "symbol of bread" and a "symbol of wine," and that it's not actually bread or wine, but the Body and Blood of Christ.  He proceeds to explain how this fulfills the Old Testament "showbread," and then repeats:
Do not, then, regard the eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.
You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ. You know also how David referred to this long ago when he sang: Bread gives strength to man’s heart and makes his face shine with the oil of gladness. Strengthen your heart, then, by receiving this bread as spiritual bread, and bring joy to the face of your soul.
Could Cyril be any clearer?


III. St. Optatus of Milevis (c. 365 A.D.)

I've written about Optatus of Milevis before, because he's a largely-forgotten gem in the Church.  Suffice to say that he was a Church Father from a generation before St. Augustine, who Augustine looked up to (listing him as one of the men whose conversion was "a quantity of gold and silver and garments" for the North African church). In Book VI of Against the Donatists, he unleashes on the Donatists for destroying Catholic altars.  Now mind you, even the heretical Donatists believed in the Real Presence (Optatus notes that they even have valid sacraments).  The Donatist's heresy was that sinful Catholic priests weren't able to validly confer the sacraments.  This entire historical controversy, which the greats (like Augustine) get involved in, makes sense only if you believe in the Catholic sacraments.  A Protestant time-traveller would find himself completely outside the argument, disagreeing vehemently with everyone.  In any case, Optatus says this to the Donatists:
Your wicked actions with regard to the Divine Sacraments have----so it seems to me----been clearly shown up. I now have to describe things done by you, as you yourselves will not be able to deny, with cruelty and folly. For what so sacrilegious as to break, to scrape, to take away altars of God, upon which you too once offered sacrifice, upon which were laid both the prayers of the people, and the Members of Christ, where Almighty God was called upon, where the Holy Spirit descended in answer to prayer, from which many have received the pledge of everlasting salvation, and the safeguard of faith, and the hope of resurrection?
That's a clear statement that the Eucharist is a Sacrifice offered to God on the altar, and that it's actually His Body - both our prayers, and the "Members" of Christ Himself, are offered.  And there's even a reference to the consecration prayer actually calling down the Holy Spirit.  And Optatus makes a point that Protestants who speak about "altar calls" would do well to remember: "For what is an altar excepting the seat of both the Body and the Blood of Christ?"  To have an altar, you have to have the Real Presence.


IV. St. Basil the Great (c. 372 A.D.)

Basil, the founder of Eastern monasticism, had this to say of the Eucharist in his Letter XCIII to a certain Patrician named Coesaria:
It is good and beneficial to communicate every day, and to partake of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ. For He distinctly says, "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life." And who doubts that to share frequently in life, is the same thing as to have manifold life. I, indeed, communicate four times a week, on the Lord's day, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on the Sabbath, and on the other days if there is a commemoration of any Saint. It is needless to point out that for anyone in times of persecution to be compelled to take the Communion in his own hand without the presence of a priest or minister is not a serious offence, as long custom sanctions this practice from the facts themselves. All the solitaries in the desert, where there is no priest, take the communion themselves, keeping communion at home. And at Alexandria and in Egypt, each one of the laity, for the most part, keeps the Communion, at his own house, and participates in it when he lilies. For when once the priest has completed the offering, and given it, the recipient, participating in it each time as entire, is bound to believe that he properly takes and receives it from the giver. And even in the church, when the priest gives the portion, the recipient takes it with complete power over it, and so lifts it to his lips with his own hand. It has the same validity whether one portion or several portions are received from the priest at the same time.
So we're seeing a clear picture: (1) the Eucharist is ordinarily offered by the priest on the tongue (although receiving by hand is acceptable, even for the laity, if the local custom permits it), (2) It's offered daily, and it's good to go daily, if possible, (3) Christ is as present in a single portion of the Eucharist as in a thousand, (4) there are feast days on the Church's liturgical calendar by this point already, and, of course, (5) the Eucharist leads to salvation.


V. St. Athanasius (c. 373 A.D.)

One of the clearest affirmations of the change in the Eucharist comes from a sermon Athanasius gave to those who had just been Baptized at the Easter Vigil, and who were about to receive First Communion. We don't know the exact date (we know he died in about 373, so it couldn't have been later than that), and we don't have the entire sermon, but from Eutyches (380 - 456), we have this fragment: (available at page 133 here):
You shall see the Levites bringing loaves and a cup of wine, and placing them on the table. So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ. [...] Let us approach the celebration of the mysteries. This bread and this wine, so long as the prayers and supplications have not taken place, remain simply what they are. But after the great prayers and holy supplications have been sent forth, the Word comes down into the bread and wine - and thus His Body is confected.
So before the consecration, it's bread, afterwards, it's the Body of Christ.  This is plainly the language of an actual change.  Besides that, we see him clearly affirming that Catholic priests are the new Levites.


VI. St. Gregory Nazianzen (c. 374 A.D.)

St. Gregory wrote a letter (Letter CLXXI) to a priest, probably his cousin, after recovering from a physical illness. Convinced his cousin's prayers benefited him, Gregory asked his cousin to pray for his recovery from all spiritual illnesses, "and loose the great mass of my sins when you lay hold of the Sacrifice of Resurrection," that is, the Eucharist.  He ends the letter by asking, "cease not both to pray and to plead for me when you draw down the Word by your word, when with a bloodless cutting you sever the Body and Blood of the Lord, using your voice for the glaive."  This is unambiguously about the moment of consecration, where the priest, praying the word of God from Scripture, brings down the Word of God, Jesus Christ Himself, into the Eucharist.



VII. St. Gregory of Nyssa (385 A.D.)

If you recall from Part I, Justin Martyr described the Eucharist as Christ "transmutating" us into His Body.  The Greek words used were "kata metabolen," and I mentioned that they suggested Christ was "metabolizing" us.  St. Gregory of Nyssa makes this point really explicitly in Chapter XXXVII of his Great Catechism. He's answering the question, "how can that one Body of Christ vivify the whole of mankind, all, that is, in whomsoever there is Faith, and yet, though divided amongst all, be itself not diminished?"  How can Christ be in every Tabernacle, without reducing Himself?  His answer is fascinating.  He says:
Some animals feed on roots which they dig up. Of others grass is the food, of others different kinds of flesh, but for man above all things bread; and, in order to continue and preserve the moisture of his body, drink, not simply water, but water frequently sweetened with wine, to join forces with our internal heat. He, therefore, who thinks of these things, thinks by implication of the particular bulk of our body. For those things by being within me became my blood and flesh, the corresponding nutriment by its power of adaptation being changed into the form of my body.
This "power of adaptation" is what we now call metabolism. So he's making explicitly the same point Justin suggested, and he mentions bread and the water/wine mixture for obviously Eucharistic reasons.  He's making an important point here about why Christ used the species of bread and wine, instead of some other instrument, to establish the Eucharist. He suggests it's because we understand metabolizing those things, because we're used to consuming them on a daily basis. He then notes that Christ, the Word of God, while He walked among us, metabolized bread and wine daily, since "the body into which God entered, by partaking of the nourishment of bread, was, in a certain measure, the same with it; that nourishment, as we have said, changing itself into the nature of the body."  So Christ changed bread into His Body naturally, by eating it, and wine into His Blood by drinking it.  And what changed the bread into the Body of Christ?  The Word: "For that Body was once, by implication, bread, but has been consecrated by the inhabitation of the Word that tabernacled in the flesh. Therefore, from the same cause as that by which the bread that was transformed in that Body was changed to a Divine potency, a similar result takes place now."

So just as in during His days walking amongst us, Christ (the Word), transformed bread into His Body, now at Mass, the words of consecration transform bread into Christ's Body.  But Gregory notes that while one foreshadows the other, they're not the exact same:
For as in that case, too, the grace of the Word used to make holy the Body, the substance of which came of the bread, and in a manner was itself bread, so also in this case the bread, as says the Apostle, "is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer"; not that it advances by the process of eating to the stage of passing into the body of the Word, but it is at once changed into the body by means of the Word, as the Word itself said, "This is My Body."
So the bread then ceases to be bread - not slowly, as it does in natural metabolism, but instantaneously, at  the words of Christ in the consecration: "This is My Body."

Gregory draws one further application out of the connection to metabolism.  Consider that bread, by itself, molds and goes bad after a few weeks, but not bread that becomes part of our bodies - we don't see an arm start molding because it was our "bread arm." No, in transforming the bread into our bodies, we create a part of us that can last as long as we do.  Gregory says the same thing happens with us at the Eucharist.  On our own, we rot in the ground (or in Hell), but if we're metabolized by Christ, we're preserved from this rotting:
Since, then, that God-containing flesh partook for its substance and support of this particular nourishment also, and since the God who was manifested infused Himself into perishable humanity for this purpose, viz. that by this communion with Deity mankind might at the same time be deified, for this end it is that, by dispensation of His grace, He disseminates Himself in every believer through that flesh, whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the immortal, man, too, may be a sharer in incorruption. He gives these gifts by virtue of the benediction through which He transelements the natural quality of these visible things to that immortal thing.
He even calls this "transelementation," the term the East still uses for transubstantiation.


VIII. St. John Chrysostom (c. 387 A.D.)

The name Chrysostom means "golden-mouthed," and referred to St. John Chrysostom's beautiful preaching.  He lives up to his title in this passage from his Treatise on the Priesthood, when he describes the awe and grandeur of the Mass:
For when you see the Lord sacrificed, and laid upon the altar, and the priest standing and praying over the victim, and all the worshippers empurpled with that precious blood, can you then think that you are still among men, and standing upon the earth? Are you not, on the contrary, straightway translated to Heaven, and casting out every carnal thought from the soul, do you not with disembodied spirit and pure reason contemplate the things which are in Heaven? Oh! What a marvel! What love of God to man! He who sits on high with the Father is at that hour held in the hands of all, and gives Himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp Him. And this all do through the eyes of faith! Do these things seem to you fit to be despised, or such as to make it possible for any one to be uplifted against them?
By the way, Called to Communion has a good post talking about St. John Chrysostom's view of the Liturgy as Heaven on Earth, and uses the passage which I'm quoting from here quite elegantly.


IX. St. Ambrose (c. 387-390 A.D.)

Ambrose, in Chapter VIII of On the Mysteries, goes through lots of Old Testament examples, showing how they prefigure the Sacraments - a.k.a., the "Mysteries."  He then says:
We have proved the sacraments of the Church to be the more ancient, now recognize that they are superior. In very truth it is a marvellous thing that God rained manna on the fathers, and fed them with daily food from heaven; so that it is said, "So man did eat angels' food." But yet all those who ate that food died in the wilderness, but that food which you receive, that living Bread which came down from heaven, furnishes the substance of eternal life; and whosoever shall eat of this Bread shall never die, and it is the Body of Christ.
Similarly, Ambrose notes that the water the Israelites drank in the desert came from the Rock, who was Christ.  And Ambrose makes a brilliant point: if these things directly from God are only foreshadowing of something bigger, that something bigger can only be God Himself.  As he says, "If that which you so wonder at is but shadow, how great must that be whose very shadow you wonder at."  Christ fulfills this in the Eucharist, since "light is better than shadow, truth than a figure, the Body of its Giver than the manna from heaven."

In the next chapter, Chapter IX, Ambrose directly addresses the fact that the Eucharist seems to be bread and wine:
Perhaps you will say, "I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the Body of Christ?" And this is the point which remains for us to prove. And what evidence shall we make use of? Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed.
He goes through numerous examples from Scripture, but his best is the Incarnation of Christ:
Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? If we look to the usual course, a woman ordinarily conceives after connection with a man. And this body which we make is that which was born of the Virgin. Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.
If we can accept by faith that a Man who seems to our senses to have been the product of a sexual union is actually no mere mortal, but God Himself, born of a Virgin, then how can we balk that the Eucharist isn't what it at first seems to our senses, particularly when both the miracles of the Virgin Birth, the Crucifixion, and the Eucharist all relate to the Flesh of that Same Body?


CONCLUSION

Well, that sums it up. I may go back and fill in a few other Fathers here and there, but as a basic outline, I think that this suffices.  At the very least, it shows a constant belief held from generation to generation that the Eucharist becomes the Body and Blood of Christ at the Institution, and ceases to be literal bread and wine. This Eucharist is offered in the Sacrifice of the Mass at the altar, and It saves us by offering up Christ's Once-for-All Sacrifice to God the Father on our behalf. This is clearly the view of the Catholic Church, and these views (in whole or in part) are rejected by every Protestant denomination I know of.  In fact, a great many Protestants would readily call these beliefs idolatry, or at least a false Gospel.  But it's through these exact same men that we know which books are in the Bible, through them that we've even heard of Jesus of Nazareth, and a great many of them paid the ultimate price of martyrdom.  Plainly, to reject them is to reject the Church of the first, second, third, and fourth century, to willingly claim superior knowledge of Christ's teaching over those who preserved and taught His Gospel for centuries.