Why Did the Law of Moses Exist?

I've been listening to a very good talk on Galatians 2-5 given by Christendom College's Professor Eric Jenislawski called  “Saint Paul's Galatians: Are You Saved?”  That talk, and countless others, are available free on the Institute of Catholic Culture's website.

In it, he poses the question: Given how emphatically St. Paul denies that the Law of Moses can save us, why did God bother with the Mosaic Law at all?  Prof. Jenislawski does a great job of explaining the three answers Paul gives in Galatians 3.  Here are the three in a nutshell, taken from the handout (which is worth reading, by the way):
1. To prevent sin
Gal 3:19: “lt was added because of transgressions...
The most obvious rationale: God forbids certain behaviors in order to check evil.
2. To put to death self-righteousness
Gal 3:22: “But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Only when one knows just how sick one is, does one desire the physician.
Understanding the radical nature ofsin is an essential prerequisite to understanding the redemption that is offered in Jesus Christ. 
3. To chaperone Israel during its youth
Gal 3:24: “the law was our custodian (paidagōgos = disciplinarian) until Christ came.
That's a great summary, and the rest of the handout serves as a good overview of Galatians 2-5 in general.  Following those three major points, here's what Jenislawski said in his talk:
The next question is, “Why then the Law?” That’s Galatians 3:19. Because I imagine the Jews, the Jewish Christians, a little bit like the elder brother of the Prodigal Son, saying, “We’ve served you all these years, and now you’re telling us that to be justified before God you don’t have to keep the Law of Moses? What gives? What was its purpose? Just for nothing? Is God some kind of weird tyrant who says, ‘Today, if you want to be saved, stand on your left leg, and wear a funny hat. Tomorrow, three turtledoves’ It’s clearly not capricious or arbitrary, so what’s the purpose of the Law, if the Law doesn’t save?”

Do you see how that could be a natural question for Paul’s audience, who had previously been so Law-observant? So Paul gives three arguments for the Law. All of them show a sort of positive relationship between the Law, and the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. But all of them do this in a way that makes perfectly clear that it’s not like the Law begins to justify, and Christ finishes the job, or that the Law is sort of half of justification, or that justification is about the Law and Christ is a “plus One” on top of that, like cherry on the cake. There’s a certain relationship, but the Law does not justify. It only prepares for justification.

Paul steps through this in three steps. First argument for “why, then, the Law?” [is Galatians 3:19.] It was added because of transgressions. Why did God make so much Law? The same reason almost anybody makes law: people are doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing. That’s sort of a simple argument: since we’re pressed on time, I probably don’t have to further elaborate. If people weren’t sinning so much, God wouldn’t have to say “now, don’t do that, and don’t do that and don’t do that…” and there’s a lot of that in the Law of Moses. You can see that condemnation of people for doing bad things is important for getting them to ultimately do good things, but it’s not the same. Is that good?

Second, [Galatians 3:21], “is the Law against the promises of God? Certainly not.” So they’re not opposed. This is [Galatians 3:21-22]. “For if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the Law. But the Scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

Now that’s a pretty radical statement. The Scripture consigned all things to sin, and by Scripture, he means the written Law of Moses, that’s what he’s talking about here, because this is an answer to “why, then, the Law?” So that’s pretty radical. What’s the purpose of the Law? To consign – RSV says “all things,” you could even read it “all” to sin. The second purpose of the Law is to say to Israel: SINNER! No, take it to heart, hear it one more time: SINNER! Sinner here, sinner there, that’s sin, that’s sin, that’s sin.

To be mean? No. Because only when Israel learns the radical nature of sinfulness can it appreciate what is offered in God’s grace. How often does Jesus in the Gospels attack self-righteousness? Not righteousness, but self-righteousness. “Because he wished to justify himself, he asked, ‘who is my neighbor?’” because that man wanted to come off squeaky clean, even though he hated Samaritans. Part of what Jesus does, constantly in the Gospel, is to teach people about the radical nature of sin. We can make the make the mess, and we can owe the debt, but we can’t pay it off by our own power. Only God’s grace can do that. God’s been trying to teach the human race that since Adam. And so an essential component leading up to understanding what is offered to you in the Cross of Christ, which is remission of your sins, and Redemption, justification, is understanding that it comes through grace and faith, and not by one’s own power.

Because a fallen man can do nothing to get himself out of the hole. And to do that, Israel had to be made constantly aware of its sinfulness. Because how often are the Jews, even with the sacrificial system, and the Ten Commandments, cheating on the Law and falling into this payoff mentality? “Ehhh, today not so good, extorted a bunch of poor people. Three oxen… done!” Kind of like you might do with MasterCard. $400 in debt, but okay, the bill comes, I cover it, I’m back to zero. That is not the relationship between a man’s sin and his power to get out of sin. It’s like stroking a check for $10 million on MasterCard, and the bill comes, and it’s like “Oh my gosh.” That’s why the Lord loves parables of crushing debtors. Remember the parable about the man who owes $10,000, and then he’s forgiven, and he throttles the guy who owes him a hundred? Or why Jesus who loves people who are in positions of medical infirmity who cannot be cured. Or prostitutes: once you’ve given yourself over to that kind of scarlet life, you can’t just do a series of actions, and get back to purity. Once you have leprosy, nothing under the sun can cure you (at least at that time). You have to have a certain kind of understanding that only God can make you whole. Or Augustine puts it this way: “Only once you know how sick you are do you ardently desire the physician.”

It’s a common mentality. Some people don’t like to go to the doctor: “ehhh, what’s he going to tell me? I don’t want to hear it.” And when the doctor tells you, “I’m sorry, you have cancer,” oh boy, do you sit up and take notice and love that physician. Because if you don’t, you’re dead. So the Scripture consigns all things to sin, lets people know the radical nature of sin, so that what was promised to faith in Christ may be given to those who believe.

So do you see how there’s kind of a dialectical relationship between the Law and Christ? The Law condemns precisely so Christ might bring justification. It’s not like one starts the process in a positive way, and the Other does the other 25%. The first one’s entirely negative: condemnation, so that once one’s on one’s knees, one can receive salvation from Christ.

Third argument gets us into what it means to be a good son or daughter of God, and the value of our human works. Paul says [Galatians 3:23-24], “before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our ‘custodian,
” (says RSV, literally paidagōgostrainer of children, chaperone, you could say), “until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith.”

Third argument is that the Law was fitted for Israel in its infant and adolescent stage of covenant history. Now “pedagogy” means “the art of teaching,” that’s not what it means in ancient Greece. It’s literally “disciplinarian.” Somebody who’s Johnny’s chaperone. Didn’t teach him, but brought him to school each day, carried his books, made sure he didn’t play hookie, didn’t hang out with the other Greeks who were drinking too much wine, gave him a slap when he stepped out of line. Kept him on the right path so that in adolescence, he might grow to maturity one day, internalize virtue, and not need the chaperone anymore. So too was ancient Israel under the Law. All kinds of rules and regulations, and Israel chafed under it sometimes, as a teenager does his father’s rules and regulations. But the purpose of that is that someday, you wouldn’t say, “Dad, please come tell me it’s ten o’clock and time to go to bed.” The purpose is that someday you’d be without that chaperone and disciplinarian because the Law is written in your heart. You don’t need the artificial enforcements about what’s right and wrong. You do what’s right, and avoid what’s wrong. So the third argument is covenant-historical.
For whatever it's worth, the last of this arguments, the idea that the Law was our paidagōgos, is something I've talked about before.

Did the Council of Carthage Have One Book Too Many?

In one of the comments on my earlier post, “Answering Nine Protestant Arguments About the Bible,” a reader named Drew asks is the Council of Carthage considered as canonical the apocryphal book sometimes called “Greek Esdras” (also known, confusingly enough as 1 Esdras, 3 Esdras, and Esdras A).  The reason there are so many different confusing names is that the Early Church Fathers referred to four different Books as “Esdras” or “Ezra.” These are:
  1. The Book of Ezra
  2. The Book of Nehemiah; 
  3. “Greek Esdras”: Basically, the Book of Ezra with about four chapters added.  
  4. “Latin Esdras”: Sometimes called the Apocalypse of Ezra, it's a set of prophesies.  
Catholics and Protestants agree that #1 and #2 are inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that #3 and #4 aren't.  What we can't seem to agree upon is what to call those four.  Jerome called these 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, 3 Esdras, and 4 Esdras.  Simple enough.  But the Septuagint treated Ezra and Nehemiah as one Book, called “Esdras B,” and called Greek Esdras “Esdras A.”  Modern Bibles make it even worse: they often call the first two Books “Ezra” and “Nehemiah,” and when Greek and Latin Esdras as included, they're listed as 1 and 2 Esdras.  So “1 and 2 Esdras” could refer to the two canonical Books, or the two apocryphal books, depending on who's writing.  It's a mess.  I'm avoiding the numbering and lettering completely, and calling them Ezra, Nehemiah, Greek Esdras, and Latin Esdras.

Basically, Drew's question is, “What the Council of Carthage said that the 'two books of Ezra' were canonical, did they mean Ezra and Nehemiah, or Ezra-Nehemiah and Greek Esdras?”  Here's what he writes:
Evening, all. I'm a Protestant being dragged (at times) and walking whistling (at other times) towards Catholicism, and this post provides some nice responses to commonly raised objections, so I appreciate it (whistle, whistle). I do, however, have a question about the canon of Scripture approved by the Council of Carthage in its 24th canon. Named among the OT books are “two books of Ezra.” In the Vulgate (later, agreed upon version, I suppose), this is 1 and 2 Esdras which correspond to Ezra and Nehemiah in modern Bibles, two books accepted by all. In the Masoretic text, these two canonical books are a single book, Ezra, and that's the only Ezra-related book included. However, in the Septuagint, Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book so-called Esdras B. Included in some versions of the Septuagint was also Esdras A which corresponds to the non-canonical (for Protestants and Catholics but canonical for a number of Eastern traditions) book of Esdras A (Septuagint) a.k.a. 3 Esdras (Vulgate) a.k.a. 1 Esdras (Protestant reckoning).

So, what did the Fathers at Carthage have in mind when they approved two books of Esdras? If they meant Septuagint Esdras B (good) and Esdras A (bad), then I think we've hit a tough spot, considering that the Council of Trent affirmed “the first book of Esdras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias” in Session 4 and not the writing contained in Esdras A. Now, I recognize that the Carthaginian canon 24 isn't super clear about their point of reference. They could have conceivably had the Vulgate in mind since the council was held in 419 and the Vulgate composed by the end of the fourth century, but Vulgate manuscripts from those early centuries are absent or inconsistent, or so I read, and the OT contents continued to be in flux for a good while after Jerome's work, finally being closed at Trent. If my “facts” are off, please let me know. Following these funny names down historical rabbit holes sometimes leaves me a little lost. 
Is this one of those give 'em the benefit of the doubt situations? It's tough for me, really, since Trent possibly disagreeing with Carthage/Roman approval has some serious implications. I'd appreciate whatever information you can offer. Thanks a million.
This is a very good question, and took a while to find the answers for.  In case you're ever asked this, or ever wonder it yourself, here's what I found.

First of all, Hugh Pope, O.P., in The Third Book of Esdras and the Tridentine Canon, Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. VIII (1907), available here, starting at page 218, already answered this.  Pope's basic point is that we know that (a) Jerome rejected Greek Esdras, and that (b) Jerome and Augustine debated the proper status of the Deuterocanon. Yet we never see St. Augustine, the great defender of the Council of Carthage, defending Greek Esdras -- this suggests, but doesn't prove, that he didn't think it was canonical, either.

That argument is good, but I think there's a way to bolster it. After all, the question Drew's raising is essentially: did the Council of Carthage recognize Ezra and Nehemiah as one Book or two?  If they thought Ezra and Nehemiah were one Book, then the reference to the “two Books of Ezra” must mean Ezra, Nehemiah, and something else.  That's trouble.  But if they thought Ezra and Nehemiah were two Books, then the reference to the “two Books of Ezra” obviously meant these two.

That's a helpful test, because it makes the answer much clearer. If you look at the way that the early Christians, and particularly those early Christians who used the Greek version, spoke of it, it's clear that they did, in fact, understand Ezra and Nehemiah to be two separate Books put together.

To take the clearest example, Eusebius, in describing the canon used by Origen, said that it included “Esdras, First and Second in one, Ezra, that is, ‘An assistant.’” From his description, there's no question that Eusebius is referring to Ezra and Nehemiah, grouped together in what the Septuagint called “Esdras B.” and Origen just called Ezra.  And we can tell from his testimony a few important things:

  • The two Books were called First and Second Esdras; 
  • The two Books were sometimes grouped together as one; 
  • Despite being grouped together, Christians were still aware that they were really two separate Books. 

(As an aside, many Jewish and early Christian canons lumped the Twelve Minor Prophets together as one Book, but everyone knew that they had separate authors).  Now, Origen lived from about 182-253 A.D., and Eusebius lived from 263-339, both well before the Third Council of Carthage in 397. So it's not as if this is some development centuries after Carthage. It was common knowledge well before.

To take more examples, Athanasius' canon (367 A.D.) notes “Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book.” And Cyril of Jerusalem: “the first and second of Esdras are counted one.” And even the dubious Canon LX of the Council of Laodicea numbers the two Books of Esdras as a single Book.

So I think that there's a wealth of evidence from prior to the Council of Carthage that the early Christians realized that Ezra and Nehemiah (which they called “First and Second Esdras”) were two separate Books, despite being generally grouped as one. Given that, when Carthage refers to First and Second Esdras, it seems plain that they mean the same thing as Eusebius -- those canonical Books we now call Ezra and Nehemiah.

Of course, this conclusion not only comports with the other Patristic evidence, but it avoids the pratfalls of the opposite conclusion, that the Church could create a canon and then somehow just forget about one of the canonical Books without anyone noticing.  That conclusion, even if it were grammatically possible based upon the wording of the Council of Carthage, frankly seems unrealistic.

Sobering Words

Russell D. Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a a Baptist pastor, writes a worthy account in Touchstone Magazine of what it was like for him to grow up as a Baptist in a mixed Baptist / Catholic home, in the largely Catholic Biloxi [Mississippi, near New Orleans], itself a Catholic oasis in the Protestant Bible Belt.

His focus in the article is on Mardi Gras, about how Baptists were (rightly) offended at the idea of drunken debauchery as a way of ringing in Lent.  Moore is quick to note that this wasn't how Mardi Gras was actually celebrated in his own experience, but that if the stereotype were true, the Baptists would be right to condemn it.  Then he says that Baptists have their own form of Mardi Gras, of giving a nod and wink to sin, but that instead of a day a year, it's a period during young adulthood:
The typical cycle went something like this. You were born, and reared up in Sunday school until you were old enough to raise your hand when the teacher asked who believed in Jesus and wanted to go to heaven. At that point, you were baptized—usually long before the first pimple of puberty—and shortly thereafter, you had your first spaghetti-dinner fundraiser to raise money to go to summer youth camp. And then, sometime between the ages of 15 and 20, you’d go completely wild.

Our view of the “College and Career” Sunday school class was somewhat like our view of Purgatory. It might be there, technically, but there was no one in it. After a few years of carnality, you’d settle down, start having kids, and then be back in church, just in time to get those kids into Sunday school, and start the cycle all over again. [...]

I never really went through the wild stage. But years later, having externally lived a fairly upstanding life, I found myself envying a Christian leader as he gave his “testimony.” This man described his life of mind-blowing drugs, manic sex, and nonstop partying in such detail that, before I knew it, I was wistfully thinking: “Wouldn’t that be the best of both worlds? All that, and heaven too.” I’d embraced the dark side of Mardi Gras, in my own mind. As much as I thought I was superior to both the drunken partiers on the streets and the dour cranks condemning the revelry, I had internalized the hidden hedonism of it all. I was under the lordship of Christ, but, if only for that moment, wishing for the lordship of my own fallen appetite.
In my experiences, this idea -- what the Amish refer to as a Rumspringa -- is something which Catholics and Protestants alike are often guilty of.  One of the reasons I'm attracted to the Mormon idea of sending young men of 19-21 out as missionaries is that it turns all that youthful energy and drive into something pleasing to God.  We, on the other hand, tend to send them to college, where they experience a life without supervision for the first time... at the most volatile time of their lives.

Moore is quick to condemn this Rumspringa, in no uncertain terms:
Do many Catholics follow their appetites and “sin that grace may abound,” hoping that confession and the last rites will even it all out before God? Sure. And do many Evangelicals do the same, hoping that a repeated prayer or an altar-call response will deliver them in the Day of Judgment? Yes. Both paths lead to the same place: to hell.
Moore's startling bluntness is much needed.  We're largely silent on the epidemic of sinful depravity unleashed during young adulthood, assuming that it's just a phrase they'll get through. That approach ignores three things:

  1. Things have Changed -- This is not the first generation to experience a Rumspringa.  But it may be one of the last.  There are two reasons.  First, people are marrying later, because of changes in the economy, crushing student loan debt, and a whole host of economic and cultural reasons.  It's usually marriage and parenthood that brings young adults back to their faith.  But as the space between leaving and marrying grows ever wider, they become less and less likely to return. The second reason is that the culture is much more hostile to Christianity than in generations past.  The social pressures to baptize your kids and send them to Sunday school have never been weaker, and without those draws, many new parents are quite content to raise their children without God.  In this altered landscape, we can't send young men and women into a world of vice with the sure knowledge that they'll return someday.

  2. Young adults die, too -- Granted, this point is grim, but it's also true. In James 4:13-14, we're instructed “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  We shouldn't presume that we can sin today and return tomorrow, since we don't know if we'll even be here tomorrow.

  3. Sin always leaves the person feeling worse off -- No one who's truly converted can be pleased at the many ways that they've displeased God during their prodigal years.  That is, those who successfully see themselves returned to the Faith will genuinely regret that they ever left.  Moore puts it like this:
On the morning after Carnival, it’s easy to feel the queasiness of stomach, the pounding of the hangover, or the throbbing of the conscience. It’s much harder to feel the futility of a whole life lived under the tyranny of the appetites. That’s especially true when, as with most of us, we see the sovereignty of our appetites as “normal.” We live among a people, let’s be honest, whose stomachs are full but who are vomiting it all up, with an Esau-like disgust. We live in a culture of craving that is never satisfied, in a world where it is always Mardi Gras and never Easter.
St. Augustine, as a young man, famously prayed: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”  By the grace of God, he lived long enough to profoundly regret that prayer and to wish he'd come home sooner. We shouldn't presume that each of us will be so fortunate even to experience such regret.


By the way, if you're not familiar with Touchstone Magazine, it's worth looking into.  Billing itself as “A Journal of Mere Christianity,” it's run by editors who are Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox, including both Dr. Moore, the author of this article, and greats like Robbie George.  As a result, it's a very good resource for viewing Christ and Christianity from many perspectives.  And a great many of the articles transcend ecumenical bounds as well, whether that's Houston Baptist's Louis Markos talking about the need for cultivating morality in education, or the Catholic convert, J. Budziszewski, on taking sex seriously.  Christians who understand their faith will find themselves nodding along to many articles, whether they're Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or something else.

What Bible Did the Sadducees Use?

In Matthew 22:23-33,we hear:
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.  “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” 
Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
What's striking is that Jesus uses such a strange passage to support this doctrine -- Exodus 3:6.  The reason He does this is that the Sadducees accepted only the first five Books of the Bible, the Torah, also known as the Law of Moses.

We can know this from a number of early Church Fathers. St. Hippolytus of Rome (170-235 A.D.) said that the Sadducees “do not, however, devote attention to prophets, but neither do they to any other sages, except to the law of Moses only, in regard of which, however, they frame no interpretations.

Likewise, Origen (184-253) said that “although the Samaritans and Sadducees, who receive the books of Moses alone, would say that there were contained in them predictions regarding Christ, yet certainly not in Jerusalem, which is not even mentioned in the times of Moses, was the prophecy uttered.

And that interpretation, of course, makes sense. If the Sadducees believed that the rest of the Old Testament was inspired, Jesus could have pointed to verses laying out the Resurrection in explicit terms. Instead, He proves it in a somewhat roundabout way by relying upon Exodus 3:6, which is certainly less than explicit. Doesn’t that strike you as at least a bit odd?  And I’m not just reading that into this passage. Jerome (347-420) explicitly tells us that He used this passage because of the Saduccees’ rejection of the rest of the Bible:
“In proof of the resurrection there were many plainer passages which He might have cited; among others that of Isaiah, ‘The dead shall be raised; they that are in the tombs shall rise again’ [Isa 26:29, Septuagint]: and in another place, ‘Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake’ [Dan. 12:2]. 
It is enquired therefore why the Lord should have chosen this testimony which seems ambiguous, and not sufficiently belonging to the truth of the resurrection; and as if by this He had proved the point adds, ‘He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’ 
We have said above that the Sadducees confessed neither Angel, nor spirit, nor resurrection of the body, and taught also the death of the soul. But they also received only the five books of Moses, rejecting the Prophets. It would have been foolish therefore to have brought forward testimonies whose authority they did not admit.” 
So whether you look to Scripture or the Fathers, you can see that the Sadducees used only a Five-Book Canon, the Law of Moses.

Rather than correcting them on this issue, Jesus recognizes that the Scriptures (no matter how complete or incomplete) are meant as an instrument to draw us nearer to God.  The fact that the Sadducees were missing out on a lot of Scripture was a problem.  The fact that they ignore the Scriptures they have is a bigger problem.  When Jesus says to them, “you are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God,” He's not complaining that they don't have the Book of Daniel, but that they don't read the Book of Exodus, which they do have. Likewise, we Catholics, who have been graced with the full Scriptures, will face a much worse judgment if we ignore them then will Protestants who remained innocently ignorant that there was more of the word of God out there.

Looking to Mary as a Model of Obedience

I't s no real surprise that the perfect model for obedience is Mary.  We see this on obvious display when the angel Gabriel comes to Her, and She consents to the Incarnation in total faith and complete obedience: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).  It's what separates Her response from Zechariah's (Luke 1:18).  And Mary invites those who will hear Her to the same faithful obedience: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).  But being obedient to the angel or Christ in front of you is one thing.  Being obedient to other people - whether it's a boss, or a parent, a religious superior, or perhaps hardest of all, a husband - is the bigger challenge.  And this struggle is at its worst when you know you're more qualified than the person you're trying to obey.

Here, we see the absolute depth of Mary's obedience. On this point, I'm in debt to my dad, who introduced me to Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis's amazing commentary on Matthew's Gospel, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Vol. 1.  In it, Leiva-Merikakis talks about how  after Gabriel announces the Incarnation, Mary never receives another word directly from Heaven (at least so far as we know).  Instead, things go through St. Joseph, Her spouse, and even then, they come to him in dreams, not through an angel on his doorstep:
  • Already married (Mt. 1:19), Joseph and Mary move in together because of a message which Joseph received from an angel in a dream (Mt. 1:18-25).
  • When an angel appears to Joseph in another dream, the family flees their home to Egypt (Mt. 2:13).  
  • After an angel appears to him in a third dream, they leave their home in Egypt to return to Israel (Mt. 2:19-20).  
These are some major life decisions, and Mary exhibits complete humility and obedience in the face of them.  She has no way of knowing if Joseph's dreams are actually apparitions from an angel, an overactive subconscious, or the result of a bit too much hummus before bed.  But She obeys anyway.  Just as She uproots everything to follow Joseph to Nazareth for the census, She uproots everything to go to Egypt, and two years later, to leave Egypt.

God chooses to respect Joseph's headship over his Wife and Child, even though his Wife is sinless and his Child is God.  God takes the one member of the Holy Family who, while an amazing model for men everywhere, is still the least qualified of the Three.  And of course, these are only the times in which Joseph is receiving dreams. The rest of the time, the many years between the conception of Jesus Christ and the death of St. Joseph, he's apparently running things without any direct revelation whatsoever, just doing the best he can.  And both Mary, and even Jesus Christ Himself, submit to him.

My point is simple: there were almost certainly times when Jesus or Mary knew what should happen better than Joseph did, or times when they wondered about the wisdom of some course of action he laid out.  And I have no doubt that a man of his holiness was more than open to hearing what his Immaculate Wife or Divine Son had to say on the subject (he worshiped his Son, after all).  But just as Jesus was quite content to obey Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51), we see sinless Mary submitting to sinful Joseph at every instance.  This is a perfect model for priests, for wives, for children, for those of us with bosses, and for all of us.  Short of the person God has put in authority ordering you to do something sinful, you should do it.  He would do it, in those cases, as would His Mother; what more is needed?

What is Christ REALLY Worth to Us?

The Diocese of Arlington is incredibly blessed to have priests like Father Michael Kelly. I was reminded of this when I heard his homily on yesterday's Gospel, which was about what it means to be a disciple.  In the Gospel, Jesus says (Matthew 13:44-46):
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”
That's actually the shorter of the two versions of yesterday's Gospel, but these two images Fr. Kelly focused on.  In describing the Kingdom of Heaven as the “Pearl of Great Price,” he reminded us that the merchant would give up everything -- all the other fine pearls he'd found over the years, his wealth, everything -- in exchange for an all-or-nothing deal.  That is, the merchant can't have 90% of the pearl, and sell the other 10% so he has a backup. He can either have the entire pearl or none of it.  If he's a dollar short, he can't buy the pearl; if he needs an extra dollar and wants to sell the pearl, he has to sell the whole thing.  

So it is with the Kingdom of Heaven.  If we sell our souls a little bit, we've sold the Pearl completely. There's no taking 99% of the Gospel and 1% of sin.  We can't say, “God, I'll give you this, that, and the other thing, but on this one tiny issue, I'm going to remain in control, and you'll have to take a backseat.”  You're trying to buy the pearl for less than its selling price.  It's selling price is everything you have, and even the merchant can't talk that price down.  And if you already have the Kingdom of Heaven, if you're already saved, and you decide to sell that salvation for one small thing -- a grudge you don't want to let go of, some sinful desire of the flesh, the glamour of pride, whatever it is -- you're selling the entire pearl, just for that single dollar. 

Jesus' point is that a pearl merchant would understand just how valuable that pearl was. Even if he had to make some short term sacrifices to acquire it, it's such a good deal he'd be crazy to turn it down.  And if we genuinely considered how valuable the Kingdom of Heaven -- eternal life with our glorious God -- truly is, we'd find the whole idea of sin just crazy.  Wander away from God?  Abandon the Pearl of Great Price?  Yeah, right!  So the fact that we sin --deliberately sin, even -- should tell us that we're selling God out for peanuts. 

Father Kelly also said this (I'm paraphrasing from memory), on the image of the Kingdom of God as a  treasure:

The first time I thought seriously about discipleship was when I was in a men's small prayer group.  The small group leader quoted this passage: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” He then asked the men in the group: what is it in your life that's your treasure?  What is there that you're willing to give up all that you have in order to possess it?  Unsurprisingly, men were answering “Jesus.” The small group leader was ready for this.
So he said, “let's look at the reverse, the un-discipleship.”  Judas betrays Jesus, by selling Him out for thirty pieces of silver (Mt. 27:3). He then asked: what would you sell Jesus out for?  At this point, the men are much more visibly struggling: would they compromise their faith in Christ if their faith stood in the way at fame and fortune?  Of course, they'd like to think not, but... 
At this point, the group leader interjected a third time.  “Think about the last mortal sin you commit.  That's what you sold Christ out for.”  

More on Shawshank Redemption and the Liturgy

Joseph Shaw, of the UK's Latin Mass Society, builds off of my post on Shawshank Redemption and the Liturgy,  in a post of his own, noting:
The blogger at 'Shameless Popery' says this tells us how important music is at Mass. Actually, it tells us much more than that. It tells us about the value of non-verbal participation.
'Red', the film narrator, doesn't even want to know what the words meant. The music and the sound of the Italian were expressive in a way that a translation could not be; one might add that offering the listener the meaning of the words at the time would have distracted him from listening. I am a big opera fan, and I'm not against 'surtitles' at the opera on balance, but one must acknowledge their disadvantages: one can easily end up staring at the words instead of looking at the singers, attending to the English and not listening to the song. It is the same with using a hand missal at Mass: Missals are good things, but sometimes one wants to put the thing down and engage with the Mass wordlessly.
He then explains that while it's important to know what's going on at Mass,
 Great works of art and the liturgy are not sponges, to be sucked dry, but wells, from which one may draw water every time one experiences them. To experience them fully, it is necessary at a certain point to stop analysing, take one's nose of the book one is holding, and just let it sink in.
Beautifully said. Ideally, the Mass should be the fullest experience we can achieve of Truth, Goodness and Beauty.  The more we understand it, the more Truth we can derive from the Mass, so accessibility is important.  But we should be careful that we're not upholding accessibility at the cost of all of the other goods, particularly the beauty of the Liturgy.

Answering Nine Protestant Arguments About the Bible

After yesterday's post, Brent Stubbs pointed out that a thoughtful Protestant named Shawn Madden raised a number of arguments against the Catholic Bible, and in favor of the Protestant Bible, in the comments at Called to Communion.  His full argument is here, but he essentially makes nine points:
  1. Many versions of the TNK used by Greek-speaking Jews varied from the Catholic Old Testament.
  2. The versions of the TNK which mirror the Catholic Old Testament are of Christian, not Jewish, origin.
  3. We can know which canon Jesus affirms because of His words in Matthew 23.35.
  4. Josephus, Philo, the son of Sirach, and Jesus have the same canon and ordering in mind.
  5. The canon at the time of Sirach, Philo, Jesus, and Josephus was known, recognized, accepted by all of Judaism without the felt need to refer to an authoritative pronouncement.
  6. "General widespread agreement" is how the Church derived Her canon.
  7. Catholics think that the Church must authoritatively confirm the canon for a canon to exist.
  8. The regional councils of Carthage and Laodicea disagree.
  9. The whole church came to recognize what books were NT Scripture (Jesus had already told them what the extent of the TNK was) early on and did not need nor rely on a authoritative council. 
Here's how I responded to his nine points:
1. Many versions of the TNK used by Greek-speaking Jews varied from the Catholic Old Testament.
True.  There was a lot of variation in the Jewish canon.  This is one reason why your # 5 is false.
2. The versions of the TNK which mirror the Catholic Old Testament are of Christian, not Jewish, origin.
True. This points to the fact that the early Christians were actually much clearer about the proper canon of Scripture than were the Hellenistic Jews.
3. We can know which canon Jesus affirms because of His words in Matthew 23.35.
False.   In Matthew 23:35, Jesus is condemning the Pharisees.  In doing so, He's using the Pharasiac Canon.  But in the previous chapter, when He condemns the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-33, He uses the Sadduccees' canon.  Specifically, He uses the Torah alone to prove the Resurrection (even though the Resurrection is much more easily proven from passages like Daniel 12:1-3, and 1 Samuel 28, and Psalm 16:9-10).  That's because that was the canon used by the Sadduccees.  I talk about it on my own blog here.  If you're looking for a confirmation of a particular canon, look to Acts 17:11, where St. Paul praises the Hellenistic Bereans for reading their Scriptures.
4. Josephus, Philo, the son of Sirach, and Jesus have the same canon and ordering in mind.
False.  The only thing that the passages you cite to have in common is that they all talk about the three-fold TNK ordering: Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim.   But every Book of the Catholic Old Testament is either Law (Torah),  Prophets (Nevi'im), or Writings (Ketuvim).   Both Catholics or Protestants could employ this three-fold ordering if they wanted to; neither do.  So showing that the Jews classically put their Scriptures in these three groups doesn't tell us what Books were in those groups.   It's true that for some Jews (like Josephus, and possibly Philo), the TNK included only the modern Protestant Bible.  But this wasn't the only TNK canon.
5. The canon at the time of Sirach, Philo, Jesus, and Josephus was known, recognized, accepted by all of Judaism without the felt need to refer to an authoritative pronouncement.
False.  If the Sadducees used the Pharisees' canon, Jesus wouldn't have dealt with them as He did.  As you said in #1, there were multiple canons even amongst the Hellenists.  There was nothing near canonical unanimity during Temple Judaism.
6. “General widespread agreement” is how the Church derived Her canon.
Partially true.  The sensus fidelium is certainly the earliest way we know the canon.  But as you yourself noted in #8, the Christians didn't completely agree.  That said, it's incredibly significant that not a single early Christian seems to have accepted the Protestant Old Testament. I go through a pretty full list of candidates here.
7. Catholics think that the Church must authoritatively confirm the canon for a canon to exist.
False.  The Church doesn't create Truth, She recognizes It.  So the Church simply affirmed the canon of Scripture which most people knew to be true once a vocal minority began to question it.  Likewise, She did the same thing with the Trinity, once non-Trinitarian heresies became a threat.  In both cases, the underlying belief (the canon of Scripture and the Trinity) were widely believed before the formal definition.  And significantly, that canon of Scripture was the Catholic one.
8. The regional councils of Carthage and Laodicea disagree.
True.*  Regional councils aren't infallible, and Laodicea was wrong.  But Carthage was right, and significantly, accepted by Pope Damasus I, who commissioned Jerome to make versions of that canon accessible to the Latin-speaking populace.

[EDIT: *Tikhon notes in the comments below that Laodicea doesn't claim to be a list of every inspired Book, so there's technically no disagreement.]
9. The whole church came to recognize what books were NT Scripture (Jesus had already told them what the extent of the TNK was) early on and did not need nor rely on a authoritative council.
Sort-of true.  Laodicea has the wrong New Testament canon, omitting Revelation.  So there really was a need for papal intervention, which we got (see #8, above).


Significantly, the Church didn't decide the Old and New Testament canons separately.  Both were handled as a unit -- for example, in Canon 24 of the Council of Carthage.  So I think it would be an error to say that we can take our Old Testament from one place (Jewish consensus, rejected by the Christians) and our New Testament from someplace else (Christian consensus).  If Christian consensus is our guide, the Catholic Old Testament is the accurate one.  If we're going to ignore Christian consensus when we don't like the answer, then let's at least be honest about it.

As an aside, this appeal to Christian consensus, to the sensus fidelium, is an appeal to an extra-Biblical Sacred Tradition, whether you acknowledge it or not.  It's an admission that for at least one critical doctrine ("which Books are in the Bible?"), your answer comes outside of the Bible Itself, from the early Christians.

To summarize: the Jews at the time of Christ didn't have an agreed upon canon; when there was a general Jewish consensus on the canon, that consensus was rejected by the early Christians; the Christians had a general consensus on the canon of Scripture, and it was the Catholic Bible; the Council of Carthage, Pope Damasus I, and the creation of a Church-wide Vulgate Bible all supported this conclusion.  No one prior to the Reformers seems to have used the 66-Book Bible beloved by Protestants.

The Virgin Mary: An Unwed Mother?

We often hear that the Virgin Mary was “an unwed Mother,” because while She was still unmarried (only “betrothed”), the angel Gabriel announced that She was pregnant. It's an inspiring story for unwed mothers, but it happens to be not true.

Mary and Joseph weren’t simply “betrothed,” in the sense we imagine that term (as fiancées). They were already married. That’s why Matthew 1:19 refers to Joseph as Her “husband,” and says he contemplated “divorce.” Needless to say, if they weren’t married, neither of those details would make sense.

The source of the confusion is that traditional Jewish weddings were in two stages; first, the couple would wed, and then, the husband would then have a certain amount of time to prepare a place for his new wife. Jesus uses this to describe His own relationship to His Bride, the Church, in John 14:2. He goes before us (to Heaven) to prepare a place for His Wife.

That's the short answer to the question, "Was Mary an Unwed Mother?"  For a longer, more detailed answer, explaining the traditional Jewish wedding practices in more detail, check out this post.

Son Rise Morning Show: How Did We Get the Bible?

At 8:40 AM tomorrow, Friday, July 22nd, I'm going to be on Son Rise Morning Show (EWTN Radio), talking about "Protestant vs Catholic narratives as to how we got the Bible."  That's about all I know, but it's a fascinating subject, so just pray that I don't botch it too badly. For more on the subject, feel free to check out:

Can Protestants Rely Upon the "Council of Jamnia" for Their Bible?

A good friend of mine is currently studying to become a Presbyterian minister at Westminster Theological Seminary.  Before he left, I asked him two questions:

  1. Where does the Bible dictate sola Scriptura?
  2. Where does the Bible dictate the precise canon of Scripture?
After all, for sola Scriptura not to be self-refuting, both of these seemingly must come from the Bible.  After all, both are doctrines, and sola Scriptura claims that all doctrines must come from the Bible.  At the time, he told me he'd get back with me.  I saw him again this week, and since he's now gone through a year of seminary, I asked him, “Did you ever figure out why you use a 66-Book Bible?”  This time, he said, “Basically, the Council of Jamnia is the Protestant list.” 

Educated Protestants frequently point to this to justify their canon of Scripture, but it doesn't really work.  But a lot of Christians, Catholics and Protestants alike, have no idea what this so-called Council was (or wasn't).  So here's what you should know about the “Council of Jamnia,” and why it's a non-starter:
  1. The “Council of Jamnia” Almost Certainly Didn't Exist:  This is a biggie.  We know that there was a Rabbinical school at Jamnia, but there's no evidence that any Council ever occurred there.  The “Council” is just a hypothesis put forward in 1871 by Heinrich Graetz, to explain how the Jews ended up with a single canon.  As a hypothesis, it's a very weak one.  There are no early sources which speak of a Council at Jamnia.  You could just as easily claim that there was a Council in Beijing. For whatever it's worth, the majority of scholars have finally realized the obvious: there's no reason to believe that the Council existed.

  2. It's Not Clear that the Jamnia School Even Addressed the Canon of Scripture:  It's not just that whatever happened at Jamnia wasn't a formal Council.  It's that it's not clear that the Rabbinical school even addressed the question of the canon of Scripture at all.  You could just as easily say you get your canon of Scripture from the Peace of Westphalia.

  3. The Jamnia School Wasn't Christian: As I said, while there almost certainly wasn't a Council, there was a Rabbinical “school,” in the sense of rabbis teaching students.  After the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the city of Jamnia became the intellectual and religious heart of Rabbinical Judaism.  Perhaps needless to say, those Jews who had become Christians weren't a part of the Jamnia school, so this school included only those Jews who rejected Christ or were somehow unaware of Him.  In fact, the Jamnia school is a product of the Pharisees and legalists.  This, by the way, is why they didn't need a Council to produce a canon.  The Pharisees had long used the modern Protestant Old Testament.  It was the Hellenists, the Greek-speaking Jews, who used the modern Catholic Old Testament, while the Sadducees used only the first five Books of the Bible. More on that here.

  4. The Jamnia School Was Very Anti-Christian: While we can't say that the Jamnia rabbinical school ever produced a Biblical canon, we can point to a major contribution of the school.  It produced an ugly prayer called the Birkat haMinim, which cursed the Christians as sectarians, and prayed to God that for these “sectarians,” “let there be no hope, and may all the evil in an instant be destroyed and all Thy enemies be cut down swiftly; and the evil ones uproot and break and destroy and humble soon in our days. Blessed art You, LORD, who breaks down enemies and humbles sinners.” This prayer was to be prayed every Sabbath, and it forced the Jewish Christians to stop worshiping with the non-Christian Jews in synagogue.

    Prior to this, those Jews who accepted Christ still felt comfortable going to Synagogue, where they would attempt to convert others by speaking of Him as the long-awaited Messiah.  For example, this is described as Paul and Barnabas' regular practice in places like Acts 14:1 and Acts 17:2.  After the Birkat haMinim, those days were decisively over.  A Christian could pray to the God of the Jews in good conscience, as He's the God of the Christians as well. But obviously, a Jewish Christian couldn't ask God to quickly damn the Christians.

    I should mention that, for whatever it's worth, there's some question about how broadly this curse on “sectarians” was to be interpreted, and likely, different believers prayed the anti-sectarian prayer with different enemies in mind.  The Israeli historian Gedaliah Alon, for example, contends “that the Birkat HaMinim may have been directed solely at those Jewish Christians who had adopted an anti-nomian position, thus denying the central tenet of Judaism at the time, covenantal nomism.”  No matter.  Even if Judaizer Christians were exempt from the curse, it was still viewed as an anti-Christian attack, and Jewish Christians left over it.

  5. The “Jamnia Canon May Be the Result of This Anti-Christianity: While it's not clear that the Jamnia school ever produced a Biblical canon (see #2), there was a push back against the Catholic Deuterocanon, and the Greek translation of the Bible generally, because the Deuterocanon speaks quite clearly of things like Heaven and Hell.  It contains astoundingly clear Christological prophesies.  For example, Matthew 27:41-43 is clearly written as a fulfillment of Wisdom 2:12-22, in which the Just One was to die a shameful Death (see also Philippians 2:8).  By purging Judaism of the Deuterocanon, you could slow the mass movement of Jews into Christianity.  This, by the way, is why many scholars who support the idea of some sort of Jamnia canon think that the canon was formed: to purge the Hellenists and the Christians.

  6. The Early Christians Rejected the Pharisees' Canon:  Given # 3-5, this is no surprise. But it's still important to remember that we're not starting from scratch.  There were Christians in the late first century, after all, faithful ones, many of who had heard Jesus or the Apostles first-hand.  And of course, the Apostle John was almost certainly still alive.  And yet here's what we don't see: we don't see Jewish and Gentile Christians saying, “We need to pay attention to what the rabbis in Jamnia decide about which Books belong in the Bible, because their decision will bind us all.”  And given that no early Christian used this Old Testament, there's no question about the right answer.

  7. The Early Christians Ultimately Produced their Own Canons of Scripture: It's not as if early Christians were quiet on the question of the canon of Scripture.  The North African Council of Carthage, championed by St. Augustine, the hero of Catholics and many Protestants, produced an exact Catholic Bible, Old and New Testament.  It was based on an earlier Synod of Hippo who records are lost to time. Pope Damasus I confirmed this canon.  This was a gradual process, admittedly, but one in which the Catholic view was upheld, and the Protestant and the rabbinical / Pharisees' view wasn't even advanced as an option.

  8. The Protestant Argument Violates Sola Scriptura:  Remember that sola Scriptura says that all doctrines must come from the Bible. The canon of Scripture is certainly a doctrine: one of the most important doctrines, in fact.  And yet Protestants advancing this view are deriving this doctrine not from Scripture, but from a Pharisaic tradition.  Unless sola Scriptura now means “Scripture plus traditions of the Pharisees,” it's a massive walking contradiction for Protestants to advance this imagined Council as a way to derive the Books of the Bible.  
Of course, the irony here is staggering.  Despite all the talk about Galatians, it's Protestants here who are playing the Judaizers, attempting to force Christians to follow the dictates of an insular group of vehemently anti-Christian Jewish rabbis from the first century.  To put it another way, if a Christian in the first century raised the argument that we should reject the Old Testament used by Christians in favor of the one being advanced in the Jamnia school, the followers of St. Paul would denounce them for their legalism.  It's just fundamentally not a Christian answer to the question of the canon of Scripture.

Come and Stay with Christ: Abp. Dolan's Call for Eucharistic Adoration

Archbishop Dolan really seems to "get" it.  It's so refreshing to hear the Gospel laid out in such bar and beautiful terms, particularly by the Archbishop of New York City. In a beautiful blog post about Eucharistic Adoration (with a nod towards Kansas City's International House of Prayer, a non-denominational church which does 24/7 prayer), + Dolan wrote:
The Church is renowned for all that we do — Catholic charities, health care, schools, youth work, love, service, and evangelization — and rightly so.

But what we do must flow from who we are — people of faith, prayer, adoration, our hearts on fire with our Lord, our best friend, the way, the truth, and the life.

If what we do does not spring from who we are, we are listless and ineffective.
That's the Gospel, in a nutshell.  The only works worth doing are the ones which grow from the seed of faith.  The whole post is worth reading, and Dolan's conclusion is right on the mark:
When the first disciples asked Jesus about following Him, He did not say, “Come do a bunch of stuff with me.”  Nope – He invited them to “Come, stay with me!”  Eucharistic adoration is a great way to answer that invitation.
(If you're wondering, the incident he's referring to is from John's Gospel: John 1:35-39).

Family Radio: The Newest Layer of Crazy

As most of you likely remember, the Rapture-obsessed group Family Radio, headed by Harold Camping, claimed that the Bible "guaranteed" that the Rapture and Judgment Day would occur on May 21, 2011.  I live-blogged the coming and going of May 21 at the time.  Needless to say, their predictions (even promises) of what the Bible guaranteed were false.

For most people, this would be a red flag.  Obviously, Camping is a crackpot.  And it should have been a call to repentance.  This was a group which had no problem claiming that anyone who didn't accept the interpretation of Scripture which they developed on their own was going to Hell.  When that interpretation of Scripture was shown to all the world, in a public and humiliating way to be false, they should have rent their garments and found an authentic shepherd who knew what the heck he was talking about.

Instead, Camping just re-invented what May 21 was all about.  This is a sure mark of pride.  Rather than admit that they were wrong, they're simply moving the goal posts and acting like they weren't publicly exposed as ignorant of the plans of God.  What I hadn't realized was how bad it had gotten. Now, Family Radio made two predictions which were easily proven false:
  1. That there would be global earthquakes;
  2. That all the "true" Christians (those who bought into Camping's nonsense, and rejected the Church) would be bodily assumed into Heaven in the "Rapture."
Both of these were obviously false prophesies.  You don't need to be a member of their group to know whether or not there were a bunch of earthquakes on May 21 (nope), or whether 3% of the world's population disappeared on that day (nope).  But here's what Family Radio is teaching these days:
Thus we have learned that except for a somewhat different understanding of the words “earthquake” and “rapture” or “catching up” no other past teachings of Judgment Day or the end of the world have been changed. The time line, the certainty of it, the proofs, and the signs are all precisely the same. No other past teachings have been changed or modified. Indeed, on May 21 Christ did come spiritually to put all of the unsaved throughout the world into judgment.
That's right: they were still right, it's just that and “earthquake” and “rapture” don't mean what you think they mean. By "earthquake," it turns out that they really meant that "All of mankind was shaken with fear. Indeed the earth (or mankind) did quake in a way it had never before been shaken."  This is an "earthquake," since man is formed from the earth (no, really, their teaching is that bad).  Even if you buy into the idea that "earthquake" means "manquake," mankind wasn't shaken with fear - at most, they were shaking with uncontrollable laughter, as Camping and Co. made Christianity look idiotic. So even under their modified "prophesy," they're still wrong.  That's astonishing, really -- they're making "prophesies" after the event in question, and still can't make them true.

Much more troubling, where we jump from "stupid" to "evil," is their claim that because of the invisible Rapture,  no one else can be saved, ever again:
The second word, “rapture,” identifies with the idea of the completion of God’s salvation program. The catching up of all the elect meant that there was to be no more salvation activity to be done anywhere in the world by God. Each and every true believer had become eternally safe with God in Heaven. No more was there any aspect of God’s salvation program that remained to be done. But the same thing became true this past May 21, even though no one was raptured. No one who had not become saved by that date can ever become saved. 
Here's an obvious question: why bother running the radio show at all, then?  It's literally doing no good, even if Family Radio is right. We've now reached the end-point in the absurdity of double-predestination.  Nothing anyone does from now until the end of time will have an iota of an effect.  The elect are already saved in such a way that even their rejection of Christ won't matter; and Christ will do nothing to save the damned now. As for the end of the world, here's their new and improved end-times vision:
Thus we can be sure that the whole world, with the exception of those who are presently saved (the elect), are under the judgment of God, and will be annihilated together with the whole physical world on October 21, 2011, on the last day of the present five months period. On that day the true believers (the elect) will be raptured. We must remember that only God knows who His elect are that He saved prior to May 21.
So you're either going to Heaven or Hell, there's nothing, not a single thing, you can do about it, and you've got no way of knowing which way you're going.

In a single movement, Camping manages to combine the worst elements of Protestantism:

  • the "you're going to Hell, and Jesus won't ever save you, no matter what you do" of hyper-Calvinism,
  • the "of course Christ wants to come back in my lifetime" eschatological narcissism of Rapture Evangelicalism, and 
  • the refusal to admit error in the face of false prophesies of Seventh Day Adventism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and sinful man generally.

The fortunate thing, of course, is that October 21, 2011, isn't very long from now.  I look forward to the day, very soon, when Family Radio is brought to humiliation once again.  But I look forward to it precisely because these are well-meaning Christians being lead astray by Camping's insane teachings.  Once Family Radio can no longer cling to its pride, can no longer simply reinterpret the prophesies it's constantly sure of, perhaps then we can draw Camping's followers to a firmer foundation of their faith. Their fervor, such as it is, is admirable.  But they've put their trust in princes (Psalm 146:3), rather than taking refuge in the LORD (Psalm 118:9).

Can Catholics and Orthodox Pray Directly to the Father?

I stumbled upon a Presbyterian blog which reminded me once more of how much work needs to be done in making sure people have some idea what Catholics believe - and don't.  The blogger, Benjamin Glaser, remarking on 1 Timothy 2, said:
Nothing separates us more from our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters (excepting of course JBFA [Justification by Faith Alone]) than the idea that we who have been born-again in Christ now have been given the ability to speak directly to God the Father through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
What? Catholics and Orthodox don't believe that we can speak directly to God the Father through the Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus?  This claim briefly left me speechless.  It's hard to know even where to begin.

I. The Wrong View of Christ's Mediation

Let me begin with a common view of Christ's Mediation which I've heard from Protestants.  While I'm calling it "the Protestant view," it's not one that all Protestants would agree upon; but it is surprisingly common.  It goes something like this: prior to Christ's Death on the Cross, the Jews couldn't go directly to God.  They had to go through a priest instead.  But with Christ's Death on the Cross, the veil in the Temple was torn (Mark 15:38), and now we can go to the Father directly, through Christ.  As Hebrews 4:15-16 says,
For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the Throne of Grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
So we don't need priests anymore!  We have Jesus, the High Priest, and we can go to the Father directly through Him.  But somehow, Eastern Orthodox and Catholics didn't get the memo.  We've kept the priests, and so we can't go directly to the Father. When we want something, we have to ask the priests to ask the Father for it.  As a variation, I've also heard that we'll ask Mary or the the Saints to go to the Father for it, but aren't able to go ourselves.

II. Why that View is Wrong

As you can see, there are some Scriptural passages which seem to support the view I outlined above. But it's not hard to debunk it, if you're familiar with the actual beliefs of the Old Testament Jewish people, or of Catholics and Orthodox.

1. Jews Prayed (and Pray) Directly to the Father

Let's start with the first premise: that prior to the Incarnation, Jews couldn't go directly to the Father. Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament proves this false.  Old Testament Jews pray directly to God all the time, and did so even when they had the Levitical priesthood in place.  To take a single example, in Judges 3:15 we hear that:
Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and he gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite. The Israelites sent him with tribute to Eglon king of Moab.”
Sure, the Israelites would frequently go to Moses for intercession (e.g., Numbers 21:7), but they would also pray directly to God themselves.  It wasn't an either-or sort of thing.  This ability to go directly to God was never lost.  Look at how Jesus begins the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Luke 18:10:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”
So everyone, from the tax collectors down to the  Pharisees, already knew that they could go to God.  So this should be the first clue that the Protestant view is wrong.  If the Jews were already able to go to God directly, and did so frequently, then the tearing of the Temple Veil and Christ's High Priestly function doesn't mean what the Protestant view thinks it means.

In fact, in the parable I just quoted, it's the Pharisee who goes before the Throne with an (unfounded) confidence, praying God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11-12). In contrast, it's the tax collector who stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” (Luke 18:13).  And Jesus points to the tax collector as the one with the appropriate posture before God (Luke 18:14).  If Jesus' mission was to try and convince people that it was okay to go directly to God, this certainly seems like an odd way to do it.

2. Catholics and Orthodox Pray Directly to the Father

Likewise, contrary to Glaser, Catholics and Orthodox pray directly to the Father all the time as well.  Let me take a few Catholic-specific examples (the same could be done for Eastern Orthodoxy).  Start with the Mass: at the beginning of Mass, we confess our sinfulness, saying, “I confess to Almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters...”;  after which, the priest and people each pray, “Lord, have mercy / Christ, have mercy / Lord, have mercy.” That's a confession by the people, both directly to God and to everyone else, and then a prayer by the people, directly to Christ, our Judge.  We see the same thing throughout the Mass.  We offer up intentions to God, and the people proclaim, “Lord, hear our prayer.” There's the Lord's Prayer, also known as the “Our Father” in which we pray directly to the Father in the words of Christ.  And so on, and so on.

And that's just the Mass.  In the Rosary, we pray the  “Our Father” at least six times. In Confession, in the Act of Contrition, we pray directly to God for forgiveness of our sins.  And of course, Catholics pray on their own, using both form prayers like the ones described here, and/or free-form prayers, where they just tell God whatever's on their hearts.  And of course, in the sign of the Cross, we offer up all of our prayers “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, boldly invoking the name of each Person of the Trinity as we go before the Throne.  That's the precise thing which Glaser (the Presbyterian I quoted) claimed we didn't or couldn't do.

This morning, in fact, I was reading part of St. Josemaria's Christ is Passing By, in which he says:
What security should be ours in considering the mercy of the Lord! "He has but to cry for redress, and I, the ever merciful, will listen to him." It is an invitation, a promise that He will not fail to fulfil. "Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." The enemies of our sanctification will be rendered powerless if the mercy of God goes before us. And if through our own fault and human weakness we should fall, the Lord comes to our aid and raises us up.
So every part of the Protestant view I outlined above is wrong.  Jews had a priesthood and yet freely went directly to the Father.  Catholics and Orthodox have a priesthood, and yet freely go directly to the Father.  Without even getting these basics right, the Protestant view is irremediably lost at sea.  They're criticizing Jews, Catholics, and Orthodox, without having the slightest clue what any of us believe.

3. Why Bother with a Priesthood, then?

If we can (and should, and do) go directly to the Father, why bother with priests or intercessors at all?  A couple of reasons.  First, because the Bible says to. 1 Timothy 2:1-2, part of the same passage that Glaser is quoting, tells us to intercede on behalf of all people.  And the early Christians were constantly going to others to pray for them (Paul does it in places like Romans 15:31, Ephesians 6:20, and Colossians 4:4, for example).  And second, because it's more powerful (see James 5:16).  After all, even Glaser talks about the ability to speak directly to God the Father through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.” Now, speaking to the Father through Christ, ironically, is seemingly less direct than what the Old Testament Jews were doing (speaking directly to the Father). But there's no question that it's more powerful.  While we can, and should, and do go before the Throne, we also can, and should, and do get others to go before the Throne with us -- particularly when the One going with us is our Lord, Jesus Christ.

III. Conclusion

Go back to the Presbyterian I quoted above, who claimed that virtually nothing separates Reformed Protestants from Catholics and Orthodox more “than the idea that we who have been born-again in Christ now have been given the ability to speak directly to God the Father through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.”  In reality, perhaps nothing separates us more from each other than this deep and painful ignorance. That's not all bad news, of course. It suggests that a lot of people who reject Catholicism do it out of a much deeper ignorance than we might imagine: that they reject what they think the Catholic Faith is, rather than the actual Faith.  It's also a reminder of the importance of Catholic evangelization: we need to drive the darkness of ignorance away, so that people can accept or reject the actual Faith. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15; Isaiah 52:7).

Answering Orthodox Objections About the Robber Council

Last week, I wrote a post explaining that the only principle upon which any of us (Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant) can say that the Second Council of Ephesus was a Robber Council, while the other Councils were valid Ecumenical Councils is on the basis of papal approval.  This is true simply as a matter of history -- the Council was rejected as a Robber Council (Latrocinium) after Pope Leo declared it such.  Even the name "Robber Council" comes from Pope Leo. So it's no coincidence that Catholic, Orthodox, and many Protestants accept the seven which the pope accepts, and reject the one that he rejects.

In the comments, Tikhon, an Orthodox reader, responded to this by attacking Robert Ritchie (who I'd quoted, and who had commented) for his “allegedly superficial understanding of what the Church is and how it functions,” saying:
You are misinformed about the Orthodox understanding of an Oecumenical Synod, about Orthodox ecclesiology in general, and about the role of an Oecumenical Synod within Orthodox ecclesiology in particular. You admit to not knowing the details of Second Ephesos as given in the Acta of Chalcedon. Had you been familiar with them, it would have been plain why the Robber Council is so-named. It was a violent affair full of every manner of machination, deceit, and coercion. Your question is moot. It is you who must show that the Seven Oecumenical Synods are not unique. You must show how they are like every false synod with one exception: they have the pope's ratification. It is simply dishonest to rely on abstraction when speaking of concrete events with lengthy records of their proceedings. Learn the facts about the Synods, and then pretend to tell us that there is no hope for distinguishing genuine ecclesiastical rulings from latrocinia.
I was tempted to simply write this off as snobbery in lieu of reason, but I think it warrants a serious response.  Here's what I'd say to each of Tikhon's three claims:

  • You are misinformed about the Orthodox understanding of an Oecumenical Synod, about Orthodox ecclesiology in general, and about the role of an Oecumenical Synod within Orthodox ecclesiology in particular.

This is vague and unpersuasive.  In the original post (and again, above), In the original post, I mentioned a surprising passage from Ketihh Mathison's book, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, in which he quotes the Orthodox Bishop Timothy Ware, who admits, “All Orthodox know which are the seven councils that their Church accepts as ecumenical, but precisely what it is that makes a council ecumenical is not so clear.” So the Catholic position, supported by the clear evidence from history, is that papal approval is necessary.  The Orthodox position is, essentially, “We don't really know why we take these seven, and not the Robber Council.”

So unless Tikhon wants to educate + Ware about what the Orthodox Church's ecclessiology is all about, I don't think that this point stands.  Simply put, the Orthodox accept the Seven on the basis of papal approval, and reject the Robber on the basis of papal rejection ... and don't even have an alibi suggesting otherwise.

  • You admit to not knowing the details of Second Ephesos as given in the Acta of Chalcedon. Had you been familiar with them, it would have been plain why the Robber Council is so-named. It was a violent affair full of every manner of machination, deceit, and coercion. 

This is the alibi that Tikhon suggests: that there was “every manner of machination, deceit, and coercion.”  Except that you could use the exact same argument to discredit the First Council of Nicea.  In fact, those who claim to be Christian while rejecting the Trinity do just this, arguing:
Surrounding the Nicene council you have crime, cover-up, motive, dangerous ambition and power-mongering. You have fear, intimidation, intrigue, back stabbing, conniving, bludgeoning, and terrorizing. Did I mention violence?
So simply showing that there were stupid and sinful things done by some of the stupid and sinful men who attended an Ecumenical Council has no impact on whether or not the Holy Spirit inspired the Council's canons.

As Tikhon himself argued, “It is simply dishonest to rely on abstraction when speaking of concrete events with lengthy records of their proceedings.”  So let's take an honest look at some of the things done in the most revered of Ecumenical Councils, the First Council of Nicea.  From the Trinitarian historian Phillip Schaff,  we're told:
Only two Egyptian bishops, Theonas and Secundus, persistently refused to sign [the Nicene Creed], and were banished with Arius to Illyria. The books of Arius were burned and his followers branded as enemies of Christianity.
Is that machination or coercion?  It could certainly be viewed that way. After all, these bishops were exiled by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, after the Council declared them excommunicated. Ultimately, a lot of coercion” is in the eye of the beholder, but I can certainly say that if the shoe were on the other foot, and orthodox Trinitarianism were subject to a Council which burnt our books, excommunicated our bishops, and forcibly sent them into exile, we'd find it coercive.

Of course, I take the First Council of Nicea simply as an example.  The heretic Nestorius brought an armed mob to the First Council of Ephesus, with the 1902 Encyclopaedia Britannica explaining that “Nestorius, with sixteen bishops and a large following of armed men, was among the first to arrive; soon afterwards came Cyril with fifty bishops.” The simple fact is, no Council in human history has ever been spotless.  Even the glorious Council of Jerusalem, found in Acts 15, and recognized by every Christian, saw “much disputing” over how Gentiles could be saved, before St. Peter arose to settle the arguments (Acts 15:7).

So no, it won't do to say that a Council isn't an Ecumenical Council because of “machination, deceit, and coercion.”  That will bar the Robber Council, surely, but will leave us with questions as to the status of the other Seven.

  • It is you who must show that the Seven Oecumenical Synods are not unique. You must show how they are like every false synod with one exception: they have the pope's ratification.
This standard is absurd, and even impossible.  It's also not what we believe. The Catholic position isn't that every single false Council looked identical to every single orthodox Council, just like not every book pretending to be Scripture was very convincing -- there were some close calls (the Didache, 1 Clement), and some not-so-close calls (the Gnostic “Gospel of Thomas,” Emily Post's “Etiquette”).  With the Robber Council, we've got a close call: it was called by the Emperor (which is how the early Councils were usually called), and attended by 130 bishops, nearly the same number as attended the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople.  Ignoring the content of what was proclaimed, an observer would have guessed it was Ecumenical.  And for obvious reasons, you can't base a Council's validity on whether or not you happen to agree with the content (or else you are judge of the Councils, instead of vice versa).

But in the first place, why would the burden be on Catholics to prove that the Orthodox couldn't concoct any argument? Shouldn't the Orthodox have some burden to explain their own faith?  To show why they accept these Seven and no others?  Simply showing that these Seven share some unique common features isn't enough. As Robert Ritchie said, we don't “want to start proposing utterly arbitrary characteristics of the first 7 councils as the key to ecumenity. Perhaps they and only they started on odd days of the month, but some things can be chalked up to coincidence.”  So no, the Orthodox have the burden here, and it's one that they've failed to carry.

We Catholics can say why these Seven alone are chosen: papal approval.  Their own bishop, Kallistos Ware, was honest enough to say that they have no answer to this argument, that they can't say why these Seven.  If Tikhon thinks he can succeed where + Ware has failed, coming up with some brilliant way of distinguishing these Seven from every other Council, he's welcome to try.  It's a good question, and one which deserves a lot of thought. But his first attempt - that man's bad behavior makes a Council not Ecumenical - fails.

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