Come and See: Bringing Others (and Ourselves) to Christ

How can we bring others, especially those we love, into a right relationship with Jesus Christ?  And how can we ourselves come to know and serve Jesus better?  Almost every Christian struggles from time to time with at least one of these two questions.  And if we don't, we should.

Fortunately, Scripture deals with this issue, by showing us in John 1:35-49, how the earliest Disciples came to follow Jesus. Part of this passage was in yesterday's Gospel:
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.

Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

The next day he decided to go to Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
There's a lot that can be drawn from this passage, and this post will only scratch the surface.  But here are some of the things worth remembering, when we find ourselves in the position of folks like Philip, or folks like Nathanael:

1. Jesus, the Objective Truth

Look at how John the Baptist describes Jesus (Jn. 1:36): “the Lamb of God.” And look at how Andrew describes Him (Jn. 1:41): “the Messiah,” translated as “the Christ.” And Philip (Jn. 1: 45): “the One about Whom Moses wrote in the Law, and also the prophets.” And finally, Nathanel declares Him both “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel” (Jn. 1:49).

What these titles all have in common is that they’re objective truths about Jesus. They’re things that are either true or false, and not matters of opinion. None of the men we see here decide to follow Jesus because they like His message or His teachings. None of them even talk about His message or teachings in this passage.

Often I hear Christians proclaiming the Gospel in terms of what Jesus has done for them. And I don’t doubt that: God is very good. But Jesus isn’t an iPhone: we don’t choose Him over competing brands because it’s to our advantage. For many Christians in the early Church, and may Christians today, accepting Jesus Christ was (and is) a death sentence.

Why do these brave Christians willingly accept rejection, humiliation, and even death? Because Jesus is who He says He is. When we forget that, we quickly because lukewarm: following Jesus when it’s easy, ignoring or rejecting Him when it’s not.

The concern of the earliest Disciples wasn't “do I like this?” but “is it true?”  That should be our approach, too.  If you’ll forgive the comparison, you may like or dislike President Obama, but the objective truth is that he’s president. Pretending he’s not would just be delusional. Likewise, you may like or dislike Jesus, but the objective truth is that He’s the prophesied Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, and the King of Israel.

Our personal feelings, whether we like or dislike the Gospel, shouldn’t play a role. And that’s for good reason. If Jesus is who He says He is, we should follow Him, no matter how heavy the Cross, or how steep the price. If He isn’t, we should reject Him, even if His message appeals to us.

2. The Importance of Relationships

Another reason we Christians hesitate about proclaiming the Gospel is where do we begin? There are so many people in need of Jesus, and we’re so small. The problem seems overwhelming, and we throw our hands up in despair. But Scripture shows us a way forward: a small way that we can make a difference. John the Baptist present Jesus to his two disciples (Jn. 1:35); Andrew, one of those two disciples, then presents Him to his brother (Jn. 1:40-41); Philip introduces Him to Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew), who appears to be a close friend (Jn. 1:45).

That is, the journey of proclaiming the Gospel doesn’t start out by passing out tracts as bus stops or proclaiming Him on the street corner. It starts out smaller and much more intimate, by showing Jesus to the ones we love. This is, in many ways, harder. But it’s also more effective. Those who know and trust us, those who’ve seen the difference Jesus has made in our lives, are more likely to find the Gospel credible than absolute strangers. That doesn’t mean there’s no place for evangelizing strangers (see: this blog), but if we feel overwhelmed, this is the direction we should go.

3. Little Things Matter

One of the reasons that many Christians hesitate about proclaiming the Gospel more boldly is that rarely do we feel prepared. We worry that we don’t know Scripture well enough, or aren’t eloquent enough, or perhaps aren’t smart enough. We act like Moses, who was afraid to proclaim the truth of God, praying, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10).

But look at how the Gospel is presented to each man in this passage. There’s a short and simple message. The Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting: the people proclaiming the Gospel in this passage present simple truths about Who Jesus is. They don’t have to be Scripture scholars or apologetics pros. They just have to know and believe the Truth, and be ready to proclaim it… or more accurately, Him.

4. Come and See

Caravaggio, The Calling of. St. Matthew
So what happens when someone is interested in the Gospel, but has some questions, or perhaps some doubts? Look at how Jesus responds to the disciples’ question in John 1:39, “Come, and you will see.” And how does Philip answer Nathanael’s objection in John 1:46? “Come and see.”

That’s an important lesson for us to learn. When someone asks, “What’s the Mass like?” our first instinct is a lengthy explanation. Perhaps a better answer would be, “Come and see.”  This invitation isn’t just for those we’re speaking to. It’s also for us. This is from a description of a homily Pope Benedict gave on this passage back in 2006:
"The story of Nathaniel also offers another reflection,” the Holy Father continued, “in our relationship with Jesus, words are not enough.”
“Phillip invites Nathaniel to meet Jesus personally: ‘Come and see!’ Our knowledge of Jesus, above all, needs to be a living experience. The witness of others is certainly important, since, usually, all our Christian life begins with the proclamation that comes to us from one or more witnesses,” Benedict continued. “However, it is up to us to become personally involved in an intimate and deep relationship with Jesus.”
We're called to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  As Catholics, we're fidgety about that phrase sometimes, because of how it's used in Protestant circles.  But it's undeniably true.  The Gospel is both the objective Truth and a personal invitation.  We shouldn't ignore either half. The Gospel is as true as physics or historical chronology, but it's as inviting as a suitor outside the window of the woman he loves.

The Dog That Didn't Bark: Eucharistic Theology in the Early Church

In the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze,” involving the disappearance of a thoroughbred racehorse, Holmes points out a major clue:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
Had it been a stranger, the dog would have sensed alarm, and barked.  Thus, Sherlock Holmes is able to deduce that the horse-thief is someone that the dog knows well.  In reading the Church Fathers, there are at least two areas where we find dogs that didn't bark.

I. The First Dog that Didn't Bark: Non-Catholic Eucharistic Theology

I noticed the first of these two non-barking dogs while listening to Johann Friedrich Fasch's Passio Jesu Christi.  It's transcendentally beautiful (especially track 25, Meine Laster sind die Stricke), and I've been listening to repeatedly for the last few weeks.  But Fasch was a Lutheran, from a family of Lutheran theologians, and his account of the Last Supper reflects Lutheran Eucharistic theology.  After the consecration, one of the singers (representing the daughters of Zion) proclaims:
God, for whom the infinite heavens,
and all space as space is too small,
is present here, in an unfathomable way,
with, and as bread and wine.
He would be the spiritual food of sinners,
oh love, oh grace, oh wonder.
Catholics can't affirm this without denying the Real Presence.  Christ doesn't come to us with bread and wine in the Eucharist.  The bread and wine become His Body and Blood.  He's not just present: they become Him.  It's possible that Fasch wrote this to get a potshot in at Catholics, but I doubt it.  I think instead that he was expressing, as a devout Lutheran, his understanding of the Last Supper. Had Fasch been a Calvinist, he'd have described the Eucharist in Calvinistic terms.

But this got me thinking about the early Church Fathers.  If the early Church Fathers had non-Catholic Eucharistic theology, why do we never see them affirm something Catholics deny?  That is, why do we never see them say things like Christ is “with, and as bread and wine”?  Where do we see them saying that the bread and wine remain bread and wine after the consecration?

It's not as if the Church Fathers were quiet on the Eucharist.  I've compiled a list of some select quotations from the first and second century, third century, and fourth century.  Entire books have been written on this subject.  Yet everything I've read from every Church Father is compatible with Catholic Eucharistic theology, and in many cases, compatible only with Catholic Eucharistic theology.  

For example, St. Ignatius of Antioch, a student of the Apostle John, wrote sometime between 103-110 A.D. to stay away from the Gnostics, since they “abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the Flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.”  But of course, most Protestants likewise “confess not” the Eucharist to be the Flesh of our Savior, taking It to be a mere symbol, instead.  So we hear the Patristic dog barking, warning us that the symbolic (or merely spiritual) view of the Eucharist was not the view known to the students of the Apostles.

Likewise, as discussed here, Lutherans have historically denied that the Eucharist could be taken to the sick, believing that the Real Presence of Jesus only exists during the Liturgy.  Yet there's no question from Justin Martyr's First Apology (written between 150-155 A.D.), that after the consecration, “to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.”  There's that Patristic dog barking again, warning us that the Lutheran view of the Eucharist was not the view of the Church of 150 A.D.

Yet when it comes to Catholics, the Patristic dog never barks.  That's not to say that you can't cherry-pick some Patristic quotations, of course.  As Catholics, we believe both that (a) the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of the Lord, and (b) that the Eucharist is full of Christological symbolism (Christ chose bread and wine for a reason, after all).  So you can find plenty of Fathers talking about (b).  This doesn't contradict Catholic Eucharistic theology, and you'll find plenty of Fathers who talk about both (a) and (b).

But what you can't find -- or at least, what I haven't found -- are any Fathers who say something that Catholics deny.  There aren't any Fathers saying the sort of things that Fasch's Daughters of Zion say, for example: no one affirming that Christ is “with, and as bread and wine.”  That lack of evidence is telling.

II. The Second Dog that Didn't Bark: Outcry at Catholic Eucharistic Theology

As I mentioned above, there are plenty of Patristic citations that are incredibly Catholic.  St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes back in about 350 A.D., “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.”  That's almost everything that Catholicism teaches about the Eucharist, summed up in a single sentence.  And nearly all Protestants would deny that statement as false, even idolatrous.  

Likewise, St. Ambrose (St. Augustine's mentor) writes in the late 380s that the Eucharist “is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.”  These aren't isolated claims: there are countless Fathers you can point to making these (and other similarly clear) statements about the Eucharist.  And in every case, the vast majority of Protestants would deny these statements as heretically, even diabolically, wrong.

So assume that the early Church agreed with what these Protestants now claim.  When people like Cyril and Ambrose start making these claims, what should we expect?

The answer is obvious.  We should expect to see a lot of outrage on this point.  The pure Gospel is being diluted with pagan nonsense, right?  We should see epistles and tracts written decrying this paganism, we should see Councils condemning this as idolatrous nonsense, and if the early Church is really Protestant, we should see some schisms.  After all, what would happen if, instead of Ambrose and Cyril, it was Billy Graham, John MacArthur or John Piper proclaiming this from the pulpit?  

As I'm sure you've guessed by now, that's the second dog that doesn't bark.  When Cyril and Ambrose refer to the Eucharist in unambiguously Catholic terms, no one objects.  There's no outrage, not even a hint of disagreement.  Not a bark, not even a whimper.

But maybe there's something wrong with the dog, right?  Maybe the Fathers just weren't the barking type, and would look over the rank heresy their peers were preaching because everybody means well?  Here's just the beginning of St. Jerome's Apology Against Rufinus (c. 402 A.D.):
I have learned not only from your letter but from those of many others that cavils are raised against me in the school of Tyrannus, by the tongue of my dogs from the enemies by himself because I have translated the books Περὶ ᾿Αρχῶν into Latin. What unprecedented shamelessness is this! They accuse the physician for detecting the poison: and this in order to protect their vendor of drugs, not in obtaining the reward of innocence but in his partnership with the criminal; as if the number of the offenders diminished the crime, or as if the accusation depended on our personal feelings not on the facts. Pamphlets are written against me; they are forced on every one's attention; and yet they are not openly published, so that the hearts of the simple are disturbed, and no opportunity is given me of answering. This is a new way of injuring a man, to make accusations which you are afraid of sending abroad, to write what you are obliged to hide.
If you couldn't figure it out from the quotation, Jerome was being denounced by Tyrannus Rufinus and others simply for  having translated some of Origen's works into Latin (something that Rufinus would later do himself).

There was a wild outrage over this, with pamphlets published and nasty personal attacks both against Jerome, and later, by Jerome against his accusers.  My point is this: the fourth century Church was ready to go into conniptions about whether or not to translate Origen's works into Latin, and then whether Jerome or Rufinus had done it more accurately.  And we're to think that this same Church knew that idolatry and heresy was being taught, but just couldn't get themselves worked up over it?

But I anticipate a second objection: maybe it's because this is the fourth century, and Roman Catholicism has already choked out the true Gospel.  Well, then, find the origin of the Catholic “heresy” of the Real Presence, and show me where the Christians living at that time were outraged, as modern Protestant would be.  The simple fact is, we don't see this outrage in the fourth century, or the third, or the second, or the first.  The dog never barked.


The Catholic position on history is that She represents the full and complete Gospel, as handed down by the Church Fathers. Her views on the Eucharist today (and justification, Mary, the papacy and the structure of the Church, indulgences, etc., etc., etc.) are all consistent with the views of the Church at any point in history, going back to the time of the Apostles, and thus, back to Christ.

Protestantism denies this, claiming that the Church believed what modern Protestants believed first, but that Catholic errors crept in over time.  The Eucharist is a single, albeit critically important, example here. My point in this post is two-fold: (1) we don't see any clear instances of the early Church proclaiming anything inconsistent with the Catholic view on the Eucharist, and (2) we don't see any objections when the Catholic view is explicitly proclaimed.

Certainly, we find both of those things easily in post-Reformation Protestantism: one need not look hard to find distinctively Protestant Eucharistic theology, and denunciations of the Catholic view.  If Protestantism were true, we'd expect to see both of those things in the early Church, as well.  As it is, we should take a clue from Sherlock Holmes: the reason the Patristic dog didn't bark is that she recognized the Catholic Church as her owner, not a stranger coming in the night.

John the Baptist and the Canon of Scripture

Busy day today, but you should check out Devin Rose's most recent blog post, in which he points out something that I'd never thought of.  Protestantism typically views the prophetic age of the Old Covenant as ending long before Jesus, with a lengthy “intertestamental period” of about four hundred years.  They claim that the ancient Jews closed the Old Testament canon around 400 B.C., and that there wasn't any new binding revelation until Christ.

But John the Baptist is an Old Covenant Prophet, and he's prophesying right up to the Baptism of Jesus.  In other words, rather than a four hundred year dormition between the Old and New Covenants, there's a seamless hand-off.  John the Baptist, the last (and greatest - Matthew 11:11) of the Old Covenant prophets, makes Messianic prophesies, and then sees them come true.  You could add plenty of other folks, like Simeon (Luke 2:25-35) and Anna (Luke 2:36-38), on that list, too: Old Covenant prophets (and a prophetess) who saw their Messianic prophesies fulfilled in Christ.

But if all of that's true, if Old Covenant revelation doesn't end until after the birth of Jesus Christ, then the idea that we have to reject the Deuterocanon because the Old Covenant was already closed by 400 B.C. loses its credibility.  The story of the Old Covenant, and its heralding of Jesus Christ wasn't over yet.

Does the Council of Nicea Reject Women's Ordination to the Diaconate?

In yesterday's post, I said that Canon 19 of the First Council of Nicea “ended any controversy” over whether or not women could be sacramentally ordained to the diaconate. In the comments, a few people protested that the broader context of the canon made it seem that the problem wasn't that the would-be ordained were women, but that they were of the Paulianist heretical sect, and hadn't followed the proper form. In other words, they claim that deaconesses were fine, but Paulianist weren't.

Let's look at the Canon one half at a time, and I think it'll become clear why that's not a tenable reading. The Canon begins:
“Concerning the Paulianists who have flown for refuge to the Catholic Church, it has been decreed that they must by all means be rebaptized; and if any of them who in past time have been numbered among their clergy should be found blameless and without reproach, let them be rebaptized and ordained by the Bishop of the Catholic Church; but if the examination should discover them to be unfit, they ought to be deposed.”
That’s straightforward. None of the Paulianists’ sacraments are being recognized: not their ordinations, not even their Baptisms. This is true of men and women, the laity and the would-be clerics. But the converting clergy will be permitted to be ordained , provided that they’re found blameless and without reproach.  Then the second half says:
“Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.”
Now, to me, that's also clear. Of all of the Paulianists (men and women, lay and would-be clerics), Nicea points to the deaconesses, and says that they're “to be numbered only among the laity.”  Three points to be made here, that I think show why the interpretation suggested in the comments doesn't hold up:
  1. If deaconesses were permitted, why not allow them to be rebaptized and ordained, like their male counterparts?  Why number these women among the laity, instead of just ordaining them to the diaconate correctly, as was done with their male counterparts?
  2. This interpretation make Canon 19 bizarrely redundant.  You would have to conclude that the Canon says that (a) none of the ordinations of any of the Paulianists are valid, and then (b) none of the ordinations of any of the Paulianist women are valid.  The second part would add nothing that wasn't already the logical conclusion of the first part.  If the Paulianist ordinations are invalid, then obviously, the ordinations of Paulianist women are invalid.
  3. This interpretation would mean that the Canon wasn't just redundant, but outright misleading.  Why single out the deaconesses and say that they should be “numbered only among the laity,” if what you really mean is that all of the Paulianist clergy are numbered among the laity?

I'm reminded of the debate of Anglican women's ordination.  Catholics reject the validity of Anglican ordinations, and the validity of women's ordination.  So if there were a canon addressing mass Anglican conversions to Catholicism, we'd expect it to (a) deal with the problem of how to ordain / re-ordain Anglican clergy generally, and (b) deal with the distinct problem of Anglican women claiming ordination.

In other words, Canon 19 is exactly what we'd expect if Nicea rejected both Paulianist and women's ordinations.  But it doesn't make a whole lot of sense if women's ordination to the diaconate was permissible. That's why I don't think that the interpretation suggested in the comments holds up to careful scrutiny.

Update: Womenpriests' analysis of this Canon is worse than I'd realized. They argue that the last part of Canon 19 exists because:
The Council Fathers suddenly realised that the general rule prescribed in (d) makes no sense for Paulianist deaconesses, because in their sect deaconesses were not ordained.
This ignores all of the problems outlined above (no one in their sect was validly ordained), but it also introduces the idea that the Council of Nicea made a mistake, suddenly realized it, and just kept going.

Can the Catholic Church Ordain Female Deacons?

explained last week the basic reasons that the Catholic Church can't ordain female priests.  In response, Tess asks,
Joe, what are the Catholic Church's reasons for not allowing women to be permanent deaconesses? Deaconesses seem much more justifiable both scripturally and by early Tradition. Are different arguments used against them, or the same (ie that the Twelve were all men)?
This is a good question, and after responding, I realized it was probably one that other Christians struggle with. After all, doesn't St. Paul describe Phoebe as a "deaconess" in Romans 16:1?  So here are the basics of what you need to know.
  • The Apostles restricted the diaconate to men only:  The office of deacon is created in Acts 6:1-6.  And the Apostles give clear instructions in Acts 6:3 -- “brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.”  The seven chosen are all men: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas (Acts 6:5).  That's not a coincidence.

  • Scripture is clear that the diaconate is male-only: In addition to the above, St. Paul lays out the requirements for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, and says things like “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (1 Timothy 3:12).  As has been discussed before, that's a one wife limit, not minimum.  But Paul's requirements presuppose that the deacons are all men.  Not only would the one wife limit not apply to female deacons, but female deacons wouldn't be called to rule over their own houses (Ephesians 5:23). If God wanted (or permitted) women to serve as deacons, then 1 Timothy 3 would seem to be wrong.  Obviously, we can't conclude that Scripture was wrong, so it must be the push for a female diaconate that's wrong.

  • The Greek word for deacon isn't always a clerical title:  The Greek word here literally means servant or server.  That's because the first job of the deacons involved the daily distribution of food to widows (Acts 6:1).  So when St. Paul refers to Phoebe as a diakonos, he might be calling her a deaconess of God, but he might also be calling her a servant of God.
  • There were deaconesses in the early Church:  Whatever St. Paul may have meant in Romans 16:1, there's no question that there were women referred to as deaconesses in the early Church.  They were tasked with things like women's adult Baptisms (since Baptisms at that time were done in the nude).  But what's also clear is that they had different requirements than the requirements for deacons, and were considered part of the laity (see below).  Once these sex-specific roles were no longer needed, the job of deaconess disappeared.
  • The Council of Nicea ended any controversy: Canon 19 of the First Council of Nicea (the same Council giving us the Nicene Creed), said in relevant part: “Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.”  That's incredibly clear. But just in case it wasn't, the Church addressed this issue in later Ecumenical and regional Councils, as well.  (Update: more on that point here).
Given all of this, we should recognize that the “deaconesses” were laywomen who served as servants of God, and assisted the clergy.  Holy women? Absolutely.  Female deacons?  Absolutely not.  

Proponents of women's ordination to the diaconate pit themselves against the Apostles' clear instructions in Acts 6:3, St. Paul's description of the qualifications needed to become a deacon in 1 Timothy 3, and the explicit teaching of the First Council of Nicea.  But if the Apostles, St. Paul, Scripture, and the Council of Nicea are wrong on this point, why trust them on any point?  Why bother keeping First Timothy in Scripture, or praying the Nicene Creed?  

If you want the Christianity of the Apostles, that includes a male-only diaconate.  If you want something else, there are bigger problems then women's ordination that need to be addressed.

A Personal Turning Point: Not Living by Bread Alone

During my sophomore year of college, back in 2005, one of my history essays was on liberation theology. In the early drafts, I was pro-liberation theology (as I understood it), and against some Cardinal named Ratzinger, who I’d heard terrible things about. Before the final draft of the paper, my position had changed nearly 180 degrees.

Two things had happened.  First, Ratzinger had become Pope Benedict XVI, and I’d come to learn a lot more about him.  I liked what I was seeing in terms of his personal holiness, and when the judgment of the Holy Spirit is behind him, it's hard to argue.

Second, and more importantly, I discovered his Instruction on Certain Aspects of “Theology of Liberation.  The Instruction was such a devastatingly accurate critique that my mind was changed immediately. I can even point to the paragraph that cut me to the quick.  It's paragraph 3 of part VI, after he finishes praising those Christians who are helping the poor:
The feeling of anguish at the urgency of the problems cannot make us lose sight of what is essential nor forget the reply of Jesus to the Tempter: "It is not on bread alone that man lives, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3). Faced with the urgency of sharing bread, some are tempted to put evangelization into parentheses, as it were, and postpone it until tomorrow: first the bread, then the Word of the Lord. It is a fatal error to separate these two and even worse to oppose the one to the other. In fact, the Christian perspective naturally shows they have a great deal to do with one another.
I’d been so sold on the false notion that liberal Catholics care about the poor, while conservative Catholics only care about doctrine that I’d been struggling to figure out where I fit in the Church. Ratzinger answered the question for me: I wanted to be where he was.

Why Can't the Catholic Church Ordain Women?

There's been a lively discussion in the comments here amongst Anglican and Catholic readers.  One of the Anglicans, TJH, offered eight reasons why his church ordains women:
(1)Male and female are created in God's image – both men and women can image God's love and beauty;

(2)The Blessed Virgin Mary conceived Jesus in her womb and the sacramental mysteries are in a real sense an extension of the incarnation;

(3)the woman who anointed Jesus' feet before burial performed a sacramental act and it was accepted by Jesus; a sign that women can serve the Body of Christ and anoint for healing and renewal;

(4)Jesus broke with tradition and included women among his disciples and affirmed them time and again in his saving ministry – this was deeply radical;

(5)it was women who stood at the cross of Jesus and who visited his empty tomb; if we proclaim his death and resurrection at the Eucharist, who better to preside than believing women whose sisters in the faith stood by our Lord;

(6)St Mary Magdalene was Apostle of the resurrection and proclaimed the Good News to the cowering faithless male disciples – if the Eucharist proclaims Christ's resurrection, then women can preside at its sacramental proclamation;

(7)women were included in the leadership of early church; Prisca worked with her husband Aquila as evangelists and many churches met at the homes of women where they acted as leaders of the faith communities; and

(8)the orders of ministry which we now have (bishop, priest and deacon) descend from the early church which include the 12 apostles but also the 'charismatic' apostles and leaders such as Paul and Barnabas and Prisca and Aquila and nameless others, who if we take the New Testament epistles seriously would have included women. 
The ordination of women is actually a sign of true apostolicity as it carries on the ministry of the faithful women who supported Jesus in his saving work and without whom Jesus would have died alone and the message of his cross and resurrection would not have been proclaimed to the world! 
Here's what I would say in response to that.

I. Jesus Set Up the Apostolic Ordained Priesthood as All-Male

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene, Lavinia Fontana (1581)
First and foremost, there's the example of Jesus.  It's absolutely true that “Jesus broke with tradition and included women among his disciples and affirmed them time and again in his saving ministry – this was deeply radical.”  But look at the list of His Twelve Disciples (Matthew 10:2-4):
Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.
All men. That's obviously not a coincidence. And we know that Jesus didn't just choose all men because He was afraid of being considered radical.  Jesus had no problem breaking societal norms, including on the subject of women -- as TJH's (3) and (6) concedes.  Obviously, Jesus wasn't (isn't) sort of sexist. It was to women, after all, that Our Savior first appeared after His Resurrection. Matthew 28:1-10 is abundantly clear that (a) Jesus appeared first to the women who came to His empty Tomb, and (b) these women weren't considered Disciples.

So we have to say that Jesus purposely restricted His ordained Twelve to only men, and this can't be simply waved away by talking about first century culture, since Jesus and the early Church were about as counter-cultural as it gets. There's also no question that the Roman Empire contained pagan priestesses -- female religious leadership (including in a distinctively sacrificial capacity) wasn't exactly unheard of.  That reasoning alone is sufficient: Jesus deliberately set things up this way.  So even if we can't understand why, we'll still listen and obey Him.  But fortunately, we're not completely in the dark as to the why, either.

II. Likely Reasons Why Jesus Set Up the Priesthood as All-Male

First, we should always avoid the trap that equality equals sameness. The equality between men and women is an equality of complementary, rather than similarity. St. Paul, using the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, talks about the difference in 1 Cor. 12:16-19:
And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the Body. If the whole Body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the Body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the Body be?
Note well what St. Paul warns: that if we mistake equality for sameness, we'll disable and reduce the Body of Christ to a single organ.  So while it's true that “Male and female are created in God's image,” and that “both men and women can image God's love and beauty;” that equality doesn't mean that both are called to the priesthood.

Of course, St. Paul's prediction has come true.  Nearly every church that has ordained women has suffered terribly as a result.  It's lead to division and in-fighting,  declining vocations, even schisms.  Look at what's happened to the conservative Anglicans, who have been ostracized for holding to the traditional Anglican belief that the priesthood was male-only.  Look at the numerous warring Anglican factions that have sprung up in response to the question of women's ordination.  That's not to say that one side or the other has been blameless here, but it is to say that nearly every time, the decision to ordain women has caused needless scandal and immense damage to the Body of Christ.  So as a pragmatic concern, women's ordination has been an unmitigated disaster.  What do these groups have to show for their ecclesial hara-kari?

But there's a deeper, sacramental reason for all of this.  St. Paul outlines the basic contours in Ephesians 5:22-33, in which he explains that a husband's loving headship is an image of Christ's loving headship over  the Church:
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the Church, He Himself being the Savior of the Body. But as the Church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, so that He might sanctify Her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the Church in all Her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that She would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. 
He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the Church, because we are members of His Body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This Mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
So the priest stands in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) during the Mass.  He proclaims the Gospel, just as Christ proclaimed the Gospel during His earthly ministry.  He consecrates the Eucharist, proclaiming in the words of Christ, “This is My Body.”  Christ instructed His (all male) Apostles to do this in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19).  But the priest isn't just reciting Scripture or quoting Christ.  Christ speaks and acts through him.  When Christ proclaims those words through the priest, the bread and wine become His own Body and Blood.

So Christ works through the priest in a totally unique way in the sacraments, particularly the consecration of the Eucharist.  This means that the priest's entire ontological ordering is radically transformed to become an alter Christus, literally, another Christ.  The priest can proclaim with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).

If this view of the priesthood is correct, and it's certainly the one that the Church has always taken, it has some profound significance for how we understand things.  The priest, representing Christ, needs to be male, in part because “the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the Church.”  The priest serves the role of the husband, and of Christ.  Those are intrinsically masculine roles.

By the way, this is also one of the numerous reasons why the Western Church celebrates clerical celibacy: it better signifies the invisible reality that the man is now bound to the Church, similarly to how a husband is bound to his wife, or a man is bound to his own body.  To oversimplify a bit, we might say that the man has married the Church.  So I would suggest that one reason people end up thinking that women's ordination is valid is based out of a misunderstanding of what the priesthood is.  Understand that, and the ontological reality that it's inherently masculine in nature becomes clearer.

Finally, the priesthood is about self-service.  Remember the pragmatic point above: that women's ordination destroys churches.  The Anglican Eleventh Lambeth Conference admitted that women's ordination “caused distress and pain to many on both sides.”  For what purpose was so much pain caused to the Body of Christ?  What sort of ministry is it that rends a church into two warring factions, just so that you can have the ability to say you're a priestess?

III. Final Thoughts

What, then, can be made of TJH's claim that the “ordination of women is actually a sign of true apostolicity as it carries on the ministry of the faithful women who supported Jesus in his saving work and without whom Jesus would have died alone and the message of his cross and resurrection would not have been proclaimed to the world”?

We would have to say that no Church prior to the twentieth century was truly Apostolic: that somehow, the followers of Christ didn't know that female leadership was supposed to include ordination.    And worse, that the entire Church fundamentally misunderstood what Holy Orders were supposed to be, for the first nineteen centuries of Christianity.  And not just the Catholic Church either -- the Anglican Church TJH is trying to defend also rejected the idea of women's ordination outright before flip-flopping.  As recently as 1948, the Anglican church, at the Eighth Lambeth Conference, rejected the ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi as contrary to the tradition and order of the Anglican communion.  They reversed course in 1968.

So this claim is ultimately more radical than even what groups like the Mormons claim. They claim that the Church ceased to be Apostolic in character almost immediately, but that it was restored through a prophet from God.  TJH is left saying that the Church ceased to be Apostolic in character almost immediately, but that this full Apostolicity was restored through a few renegade Anglican provinces ordaining women without permission (and in direct violation of Anglican leadership), only to have some bishops later support the decision.

There is a particular sense in which women (and laymen) partake of the priesthood.  In Baptism, each of us is anointed priest, prophet, and king (CCC 1241).  But this isn't the same thing as the ordained, sacramental priesthood: there's more on that distinction here.  It's also true that as TJH points out in (2), all of the Incarnational graces flow through Mary, which includes the graces tied to Holy Orders.  But that's different than saying that Mary was or is an ordained priestess.  She wasn't, and while she accompanied the Twelve, she was never counted amongst their number.

Most of what TJH provided actually contains the same shred of truth: women are called to help guide the Church.  Think of St. Catherine of Siena, writing to the pope to tell him to move the papacy from Avignon back to Rome (which he promptly did). Was she a priest? No.  Was she a Church leader?  Indisputably.

Or look at Mother Teresa, or Mother Angelica, or innumerable other women famous and not, who carried on the Gospel from the time of the Apostles to today.  It would be an incredibly misguided view to suggest that it takes Holy Orders to proclaim Jesus, or to minister in love to one's neighbor.  All of the examples TJH provides support this: women who weren't Apostles, weren't bishops, weren't presbyters, and weren't deacons, but still served God in a public and pleasing way.

That should be reassuring not only for women, but for men who aren't called to the sacramental priesthood.  God's plan for most of us isn't to serve Him as clerics, but as laypeople.  Women's ordination is a misguided push in the wrong direction.

Did Jesus Rebuke His Mother in Luke 8:19-21?

Yesterday's Gospel is an easy one to stumble over as Catholics. It's from Luke 8:19-21, while Jesus is teaching the crowds:
Then His Mother and His brothers came to Him but were unable to join Him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your Mother and Your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.” He said to them in reply, “My Mother and My brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”
A few chapters later, we hear something similar (Luke 11:27-28):
While He was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
What's going on here? Is Jesus denouncing His Mother?

Nope.  Rather, He's showing that it's primarily faith, not blood relation, that matters.  In the case of Mary, She was connected to Christ in both ways.  It's precisely because of Her faith that She became His Mother.

Compare the passage above to a third scene from Luke's Gospel, Luke 1:41-45,
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 
And how does this happen to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.
At first, Elizabeth's Holy Spirit-inspired prayer to Mary sounds very similar to what the woman in the crowd shouted to Jesus in Luke 11.  Both Elizabeth and the woman in the crowd talk about Mary's blessedness.  But Elizabeth, being filled with the Holy Spirit, is able to understand that Mary is blessed for is her faith, not because of Who she's related to.

Obviously, Jesus isn't denying that Mary is blessed. He's not contradicting the Holy Spirit.  And we shouldn't read His words in Luke 8 or Luke 11 as a rebuke of His Mother.  Instead, we should see them as an invitation.

Mary is both the biological Mother of Jesus, and His most devoted follower.  But which of these two traits matters more to Jesus?  Would it be better to be a faithless blood relative, or a faithful foreigner?  The answer is obvious to us today, but it wasn't always so. So what Jesus is rebuking is the idea that if you come from a holy family, you're set.

The Old Testament contains plenty of multi-generational blessings and curses, and some people appear to have reacted by deciding that they must enjoy God's favor, since they come from a good family.  Jesus rebukes this idea with stunning clarity in John 8:39.  When the people in the crowd boasted, “Our father is Abraham,” Jesus replied: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham,” and accuses them of having the devil for their father (John 8:44).

In other words, the most important fatherhood is spiritual, not biological.  That's true, whether we're talking about God's Fatherhood, or Abraham's, or even the devil's.  The same is true of motherhood and brotherhood.  This doesn't diminish the biological family at all, but draws it up into something more perfect.  Dads should be spiritual fathers to their kids, moms should be spiritual mothers to their kids, and children should treat one another as spiritual brethren.

Like I said, Jesus' emphasis on faith over bloodlines is an awesome invitation. You and I can't trace our bloodline to Jesus of Nazareth.  But Jesus' point is that this doesn't matter.  Mary, with of her unparalleled faith, become the biological Mother of God, and His most devoted follower.  We're not going to become His biological kin, but we can join His family through faith.

We see this throughout the New Testament.  God is our spiritual Father (Matthew 6:9), the Woman (an image of Mary and the Church) is depicted as our spiritual Mother (Revelation 12:7), and we're each others' spiritual brothers and sisters (1 Corinthians 7:15).

We can approach God Himself as if He were our biological Father, and so we're urged to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). That's (literally) awesome.

The Cross, the Sign of God's Love

Someone left this in a comment here. It's from John Paul II's message to the 2001 World Youth Day
“'Take up his cross daily and follow me'. As the cross can be reduced to being an ornament, “to carry the cross” can become just a manner of speaking. In the teaching of Jesus, however, it does not imply the pre-eminence of mortification and denial. It does not refer primarily to the need to endure patiently the great and small tribulations of life, or, even less, to the exaltation of pain as a means of pleasing God. It is not suffering for its own sake that a Christian seeks, but love. When the cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving. To carry it behind Christ means to be united with him in offering the greatest proof of love. 
My dear young people, do not think it strange that, at the beginning of the third millennium, the Pope once again directs you towards the Cross of Christ as the path of life and true happiness. The Church has always believed and proclaimed that only in the Cross of Christ is there salvation."
You can find his full message here or here.

What Impact Does Catholic Teaching Have on AIDS in Africa?

Polly Toynbee of the Guardian has leveled one of the most serious (and irresponsible) charges against the Catholic Church: that She's to blame for millions of dead Africans. In a 2005 article for the Guardian, she wrote:
How dare Tony Blair genuflect on our behalf before the corpse of a man whose edicts killed millions? [...] With its ban on condoms the church has caused the death of millions of Catholics and others in areas dominated by Catholic missionaries, in Africa and right across the world. In countries where 50% are infected, millions of very young Aids orphans are today's immediate victims of the curia.
This is a common meme.  Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins used this same argument to argue that the Catholic Church was in the running for the major institution that “most deserves the title of greatest force for evil in the world.” So let's tackle this argument head-on:  Is the Catholic stance against contraception responsible for the AIDS-related deaths of millions of Africans?

Well, why not see what the data says?  After all, these are the same atheists who routinely crow about being interested in real knowledge and reason, rather than faith.  So let's put their faith to the test.  If the Catholic Church's teachings against condoms are causing millions of Africans to contract AIDS, we should expect to see heavily-Catholic countries with far higher AIDS rates than their non-Catholic counterparts. So I decided to compare the rates by region and by country.  

Methodology and Parameters

Fortunately for me, the contributors at Wikipedia already extracted and organized almost all of the data I needed.  Using the CIA World Factbook data on religion and AIDS, they've organized three helpful lists:
  1. Christianity by Country
  2. Catholics by Country
  3. List of countries by HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate, comparing HIV/AIDS infection rates for individuals aged 15-49.
So here's what I've done.  I've broken sub-Saharan Africa into four geographic regions, and plotted the percentage of non-Christians (in green) non-Catholics (purple), and then the HIV/AIDS infection rate per 1000 individuals aged 15-49 (orange).  If Toynbee and Dawkins are right, what we should see is the AIDS rate skyrocketing among the most Catholic countries.  That is, as the purple lines go down, the orange line should go dramatically up.


Sub-Saharan Africa is broadly divided into four regions: West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa. Of these four, the least Catholic region, Southern,  is also the region with (by far) the worst AIDS infection:

But that's easy enough to write off.  There are plenty of epidemiological reasons why a disease would be more prevalent in one region than another quite unrelated to religious belief.  So let's look at each region, broken down by country.  I broke Sub-Saharan Africa down as follows:

  • Central Africa: Burundi, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria.  (Wikipedia's regional break-down doesn't include Nigeria, Cameroon, or Gabon as Central Africa, so I've included that graph as well.)
  • East Africa: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda.
  • West Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
  • Southern Africa: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

For a variety of reasons, I've excluded the island countries.  They're too geographically isolated to be of much help one way or another, and most of them were tiny, with low populations.

AIDS and Catholicism in Central Africa

Using the full list of countries I cited above, it looks like this (click on the graph to see it full size):

Wikipedia defines Central Africa more narrowly, excluding Nigeria, Cameroon, and Gabon.  Their list would look like this:

In either case, we've got the same result.  Take the average infection rate in the three least-Catholic countries (those on the left side of the graph), compare it with the average infection rate in the three most-Catholic countries, and you'll see that it's far higher... regardless of which graph you use.  This certainly debunks Toynbee and Dawkin's central thesis.  But it might do even more than that, positively suggesting that widespread Catholic presence actually curbs a nation's AIDS infection rate.

AIDS and Catholicism in Eastern Africa

Looking at the entire region of Eastern Africa produces this graph:

But the graph is skewed by the presence of two countries: Somalia and Djibouti.  Both are majority-Muslim countries set on the Persian gulf.  Arguably, they're outside of the epidemiological region.  But they also seem to suggest that strict religious rules regarding sex work, when it comes to lower AIDS rates.  It's the two ends of the graph -- the largely Catholic and largely Muslim societies in East Africa -- which have the lowest AIDS.

Obviously, Toynbee and Dawkins aren't wishing that Catholics had tougher, Islamic-style sexual rules in place.  Setting Somalia and Djibouti aside, the graph looks like this:

Once again, the three most-Catholic countries have lower AIDS rates than the three least-Catholic.  This is particularly interesting since two of the three least-Catholic countries, Kenya and Uganda, have large Protestant populations -- who oppose pre- and extra-marital sex, but are generally fine with condoms.  This is at least a clue that the Catholic opposition to contraception may actually play a positive role.

AIDS and Catholicism in Southern Africa

Here, we arrive at the least Catholic region, and the region most devastated by AIDS:

There's not much of a trend regarding AIDS at all here.  It's high all over.  If you were to list the AIDS rate of just the three most- and least-Catholic countries in the region, the least-Catholic countries would occupy three of the top four spots.  So once again, Catholicism doesn't seem to be leading to any more AIDS deaths here, either.

The real issue here is geography.  The further south you go in the region, the worse the AIDS epidemic is.  And as it happens, while South Africa is largely Protestant, the tiny nations of Swaziland and Lesotho have large Catholic populations:

If you were to exclude those two countries, it would produce a pretty dramatic effect:

Ignore South Africa (second from the left) in the graph above, and you've got a pretty good picture of what the AIDS rate looks like in the northern half of the region.  It produces the same familiar trend.  Each of the three least-Catholic countries have higher AIDS rates than each of the three most-Catholic.

AIDS and Catholicism in West Africa

Finally, we get to the only region in which the most-Catholic countries had a higher average AIDS rate than the least-Catholic countries, West Africa:

So Togo, a country in which about one in four people are Catholic, has one of the region's highest AIDS rates: roughly equal to that of Washington, D.C.  But it turns out, it's not for lack of condoms:
According to government statistics, six percent of Togo's five million people are HIV positive, putting the country just behind Cote d'Ivoire with 10 percent and Liberia with an estimated eight percent. 
But one bright spot is condom use. Packets of six can be found by the bedside in many a hotel room and according to Togo's national AIDS programme, there are now some 11 million condoms being sold a year compared to just seven million in 2002. [...] 
Today you can buy a PSI condom for 25 CFA (5 US cents), whereas unsubsidised equivalent products retail for 290 CFA (53 US cents) - more than 10 times the price.
So it's a country selling and giving away millions of condoms, with a population of only five million people.  Perhaps more condoms isn't the solution to the problem.  If you're wondering, the actual sources of the AIDS crisis in Togo can be fairly traced to the country's civil war, lack of infrastructure, devastating poverty, and widespread prostitution... not the Catholic Church.


Go back to Toynbee's claim:
With its ban on condoms the church has caused the death of millions of Catholics and others in areas dominated by Catholic missionaries, in Africa and right across the world. In countries where 50% are infected, millions of very young Aids orphans are today's immediate victims of the curia.
It's pure bunk.  Not only is there absolutely no evidence of millions of people contracting AIDS in Catholic-dominated areas, the opposite appears to be true.  If anything, Catholic teaching, forbidding sex-on-demand seems to be saving countless lives.  And of course, Toynbee's claim that Catholics are to blame for the AIDS orphans in “countries where 50% are infected is equally (and demonstrably false).  There are no countries with 50% infection rate.

It's no wonder that folks like Edward C. Green have agreed with Pope Benedict XVI that the massive influx of contraception into Africa was only making the AIDS epidemic worse. Unlike the Catholic Church, the false security provided by condoms (which do fail) does cost countless lives. And unlike Dawkins and Toynbee, Green can actually back his claims up with statistics.  But then, what does he know?  He's only the head of the AIDS Prevention Clinic at Harvard University.

It's grimly ironic that the atheists in question have such a dogmatic aversion to looking at actual empirical data.  And worse yet that their Pavlovian “condoms = good” blind them to any alternative solutions, which actually might save lives.  But while Dawkins and Toynbee sit on the sidelines and (falsely) accuse the Catholic Church of killing millions of Africans with AIDS, She'll keep on actually saving innumerable lives:
One of the most startling ironies of AIDS in Africa is that despite the Catholic church’s ban on the key element of comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention strategies, the Catholic church is a major provider of AIDS care and services on the continent and in other parts of the world. Approximately 12% of all AIDS care worldwide is provided by Catholic church organizations, while 13% is provided by Catholic nongovernmental organizations, meaning that Catholic church-related organizations are providing some 25% of the AIDS care worldwide-making it the largest institution in the world providing direct AIDS care.
And that's not from some Catholic website, but from the absurdly pro-contraception Condoms4Life.  So if you want to know the real impact that Catholic teaching has on AIDS in Africa, look no further.


  • The regional lines could have been drawn differently, since it's hard to say precisely where something like “central Africa” begins.
  • The CIA World Factbook and other sources often disagreed quite remarkably over both the AIDS rate and the Catholic population of specific countries.  
  • For both Ethiopia and Eritrea, I included the Orthodox as Catholics, since the Orthodox limit or forbid the use of condoms. Granted, that's true of some Muslims as well, but I addressed that point above.
  • The simple fact that a country has a lot of self-proclaimed Catholics doesn't actually prove that the people follow Catholic teachings: I know that.But it's as good a rubric of any that I could think of.
  • There's always a risk of user error -- so if you see some number I mistyped, let me know!

Why Aren't Christians Bound by the Saturday Sabbath?

An earlier post I wrote, Answering Seventh-day Adventism, has generated some helpful feedback from both current and former Adventists.  The consensus seems to be that even if Catholics can show that the founders of Seventh-day Adventism were false prophets, that won't be good enough.

At its core, the logic is simple: Sabbath observance is part of the Ten Commandments. Actually, Adventists often claim that it's the most important of the Ten. White made the odd claim that it was “the only one of the ten which brings to view the true God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth.”  So if One of the Ten Commandments is no longer binding, what about the other Nine?  Can we just start murdering and committing idolatry, willy-nilly?

The answer to this gets into a broader question of the relationship between the relationship between the Law of Moses and the New Covenant.  The short answer is this: Christ fulfilled the Law.  None of the Law is binding simply by virtue of being the Law.  Instead, here's what we're bound to follow (from Matthew 22:36-40):
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Those are the two commandments that we Christians have to live out.  So some of the moral rules and restrictions found in the Law are still in effect: not because they're Law, but because they're necessary for living out a life of love of God and love of neighbor.   This necessarily means that the prohibition against murder is treated very differently than, say, the prohibition against wearing wool and linen at the same time (Deuteronomy 22:11).

There's much more that can be said on that topic, but like I said, that's a bit complex. So let's look at the simpler question: what happens to the Sabbath.  And here's the answer that the Scriptures give.

(1) Sabbath Observance is No Longer Binding

The Old Testament set special days set aside each week (the Sabbath), each month (the New Moon), and each year (the specific religious festivals, like Passover).  Solomon refers to each of these in 2 Chronicles 2:4, in a letter to Hiram, the king of Tyre:
Now I am about to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God and to dedicate it to him for burning fragrant incense before him, for setting out the consecrated bread regularly, and for making burnt offerings every morning and evening and on the Sabbaths, at the New Moons and at the appointed festivals of the LORD our God. This is a lasting ordinance for Israel.
So what happens to these special observances in the New Covenant?  Look at  Colossians 2:16, right after the passage I quoted yesterday, in which St. Paul says:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
That's about as clear as can be.  We're not bound to observe Passover or Hanukkah, or the New Moon celebrations, or the Saturday Sabbath.    We'll get to why this is, shortly, but for now, just recognize that the above passage ends the controversy.  Christians are not still bound by the Saturday Sabbath.  So Seventh-day Adventism's central doctrine is still false.

(2) Why Aren't We Still Bound?

Without going into a full discussion of the relationship between the Law and the New Covenant, for now, it'll suffice that Jesus Christ said of His mission: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).  He died on the Cross on Friday, and was laid in the Tomb.  He rose again on Easter Sunday, “when the Sabbath was over” (Mark 16:1).  That is, His Body rested in the Tomb, fulfilling the Sabbath once and for all.  By forever tying the Sabbath in with the Triduum, Christ swept the Sabbath up into eternity.

So how do Christians observe the Sabbath now?  We hear the answer in Hebrews 4:6-11.  After
Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” 
This He did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice,do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.   
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
What's this saying?  That each of us are called today to turn towards Christ, and to accept Him in faith. If we do this, we enter into His eternal rest.  We stop trying to work our way to Heaven, and walk by faith, instead. Thus, the Sabbath rest is observed every day; it's observed Today, and it's always Today.

When we walk in Christ, we walk in the fulfillment of the Sabbath, the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5).  We don't have to observe the Saturday Sabbath for the same reason that we don't have to follow the Mosaic Law.  He fulfills both perfectly.

(3) Respecting Those Who Observe the Saturday Sabbath

St. Paul often offers solid pastoral advice for dealing with those who still found bound by the Jewish Law.  He's quick to correct their errors, as their spiritual father, but he's just as quick to tell the rest of us to mind our own business.  So he corrects the claim that Saturday Sabbath observance is necessary, but then he has this to say to the rest of us, in Romans 14:5-6:
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
This is an important point to keep in mind.  Yes, Adventists are wrong when they claim that the observance is still required.  (In fact, Romans 14:5-6 wouldn't make sense if they were right, since Paul would have to say that the one who regards every day alike was sinning against the most important Commandment.)

But if Christians want to devote Saturday to God in a special way, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.  On the contrary, they're doing something for God, and it's pleasing to Him.  It only becomes wrong once they declare that this is somehow required, or that everyone is supposed to do it.

(4) Why Do We Observe Sunday, Then?

Given that no one day is inherently more sacred than any others, as Paul's writings show, why do Catholics have things like a Sunday obligation?  Short answer, Hebrews 10:25 tells us to continue assembling together as Christians.  Communal worship doesn't work if people come and go whenever they want, so every Church - Catholic, Protestant, Adventist, you name it - sets worship times. The Catholic Church sets the primary day for worship on Sunday, to ensure that the full assembly of Christians is present together, encouraging one another and worshiping God.  Longer answer?  Here.

Update: Link fixed.

The Power of the Cross

Yesterday was on of the most powerful liturgical feasts on the calendar, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  The Scriptural readings do a great job of showing just how powerful the Cross is.  The First Reading is from Numbers 21:4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by way of the Red Sea, to bypass the land of Edom, but the people’s patience was worn out by the journey; so the people complainedd against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!”

So the LORD sent among the people seraph serpents, which bite the people so that many of the Israelites died. Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you. Pray to the LORD to take the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses: Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and everyone who has been bitten will look at it and recover.

Accordingly Moses made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever the serpent bit someone, the person looked at the bronze serpent and recovered.
One of my friends asked what a “seraph serpent” was, and here's what the NAB footnote says:
Seraph: the Hebrew name for a certain species of venomous snake; etymologically the word might signify “the fiery one.” Compare the winged throne guardians in Is 6:2, 6; see also Is 14:29; 30:6.
The serpent represents sin, and calls to mind the Fall (see Genesis 3). By unleashing the deadly serpents, God is letting the people see visibly how destructive and dangerous their sins really are. It's hard for us to truly grasp just how deadly sin is to our soul.  But when it's in terms of, “here's a deadly snake that'll kill you, and it represents your sins,” that's something we can understand.

And what's the solution to these deadly snakes?  To take precious bronze, and fashion it the likeness of a snake, and mount it on a wooden pole.  Those who looked upon it were saved.  We see a vivid depiction of that scene here, in Sébastien Bourdon's Moses and the Brazen Serpent:

It's hard to miss the similarity to the Cross.  St. Paul says: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:20b-21).  Just as the beautiful bronze was forged into the likeness of the serpent, sinless Christ took on the sins of the world, so that we might be saved.

Jesus Himself makes the same point to Nicodemus, and explicitly references the seraph serpents from the First Reading. This is from John 3:13-17, yesterday's Gospel:
“No one has gone up to Heaven except the One who has come down from Heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
So just as those who looked upon the crucified serpent were saved from physical death, those who look upon Our Crucified Lord in faith will be saved as well.

For this reason, the Cross is both the ultimate shame, and the ultimate victory.  It's the ultimate shame, in that the death was one designed by the Romans to be intentionally painful and humiliating.  This humiliating death was prophesied by Isaiah, as St. Phillip explained in Acts 8:32-35.

But it's also the ultimate victory.  When Jesus says that “the Son of Man be lifted up,” the double meaning is intentional.  He will be literally exalted, in the sense that His Body is lifted off of the ground on the Cross, but He's spiritually exalted as well.  Yesterday's Feast celebrates that spirit of victory: the Exaltation of the Cross.

Jesus uses this imagery again in John 8:28, tying it to His claim to be God: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on My own, but I say only what the Father taught Me.” (Christ alone can manage to simultaneously humble Himself and declare Himself God, and He does it in that verse).

St. Paul talks about the Cross as an exaltation quite beautifully.  Colossians 2:13-15 contains some of the most beautiful prose describing the Atonement, and the Power of the Cross. Notice who is described as the being humiliated by the Crucifixion:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the Cross.

Read that last line again.  Paul sees the Crucifixion not as the low point in the humiliation of Christ, but as an enormous victory, in which Jesus shames the forces of darkness.  The enemies of Christ drew more attention to Him, as they tried to shame Him.  But the result was that the Cross became free advertising for the Gospel, since the place where Jesus was Crucified was near the city, that is, Jerusalem, and the inscription above His Head “was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek”  (John 19:20).

How can the Cross be at once a humiliation and a victory? St. Paul answers this apparent contradiction in song, by quoting what appears to be one of the earliest Christian hymns. This is from Philippians 2:5b-11, yesterday's Second Reading:
Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, He emptied Himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
He humbled Himself,
becoming obedient to Death, even Death on a Cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted Him
and bestowed on Him the Name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This hymn expresses it beautifully.  Christ isn't a power-monger: He doesn't even cling to that power which is His by virtue of His Divine Nature.  His whole mission is a long process of humiliation, from taking on the form of a fetus, to being born in a stable to a poor family, in a backwater town of a humiliated country run by cruel Romans, to being rejected by many of those He knew and loved, to being betrayed by one His dearest friends, to being stripped naked, nailed to the Cross and left to die, only to have His Body mutilated by a Roman soldier.  His Body is then left in an unmarked Tomb so as not to offend the religious folk celebrating the Passover.

Yet He doesn't die an abject failure, but a success.  He's achieved the mission He's set out for: to atone for the sins of the world.  This, strangely, is a victory.  Indeed, the greatest victory the world has ever known.  And of course, His Death isn't the final chapter.  The Father glorifies Him and, through the Resurrection, we catch a clearer glimpse of His Divine Nature.  Paul tells us that the Resurrection is for our justification (Romans 4:25), and we should thank God for it. It's only through the lens of the Resurrection that we can make sense out of any of this, so foreign this is to our human experience.  The only parallel I can think of is to childbirth: women go through the most intense and agonizing pain of their lives, and they rejoice in it, because they're bringing forth new life.

One final point.  The Cross isn't an isolated historical event.  To be saved, we must unite ourselves to it.  Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).  Fr. Arne Panula has said on this subject that when we find ourselves carrying our cross, we should always remember that it's not merely a Cross, but a Crucifix, and that Jesus is there with us.  Unite ourselves to Him in our suffering, and we'll see that our greatest humiliations and our deepest pains are also the greatest spiritual victories.  That's the power of the Cross.

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