Category Archives: Apologetics

“Loss & Gain”, Reformed & something missing…


-please click on the image for greater detail

John Thayer Jensen was born in California in 1942 and raised in a non-religious home. At a time of emotional collapse in his life, John was influenced by several Evangelical Christians, subsequently leading to his committing his life to Christ in 1969. He eventually made his way into the Calvinist tradition, and joined a Reformed denomination in New Zealand. He converted to the Catholic faith during the Christmas season of 1995. He has a B.A. in linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. in linguistics from the University of Hawaii. He lives in New Zealand, where he works at the University of Auckland and plays the horn in a local orchestra. He is also the author of a Yapese Reference Grammar and a Yapese-English Dictionary.


-John Thayer Jensen (right) & his wife, Susan (left)

Introduction

8AM Mass this morning – Father gives us a homily that takes its departure from St Paul’s “thorn in the side” to reflect on our own sufferings and trials. His homily is personal and, at points, touching. He surmises that St Paul’s “thorn” may have been some physical defect, such as poor eyesight, or perhaps a tendency to a personal fault – anger, for instance. We ourselves have our “thorns.” We should remember that God’s grace is sufficient for us; that when we are weak, then we are strong. At the end, he reminds us that Christ had, also, His “thorns” – and Father gestures at his forehead to remind us of them. Not such a bad homily, after all, but aimed at sentiment rather than thought.

The music at this, as with most of our Masses, is negligible. The content of the hymns focuses on God’s unconditional love for us; calls us to be “instruments of peace.” We usually recite the Apostle’s rather than the Nicene Creed – perhaps the latter is too long. Our response to the prayers of the faithful is to chant a Maori version of “Lord, hear our prayer” – though of Maori speakers in the congregation of perhaps 200, there may be one at most.

At our Reformed church, of which we were one of the three founding families, the sermon – 40 minutes or so, by contrast with Father’s 15-minute homily – would have been systematic and Biblical; would have explicated the text of a passage chosen by the pastor; would have related it to Reformed theological themes. The singing was always of metrical psalms – for we wished to be Biblical.

In, therefore, the manner of worship in the two churches, there is a real contrast – though not one that allows me to say this or that is better. The ordinary parish Mass can be pretty lacking in many ways; the Reformed service, on the other hand, was often dry and tedious. Still, I am not a Catholic because of ‘bells and smells.’

At the Reformed Church, once every few months those of us who were communicant members would have attended an addition to the service to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

At Mass today, as every day, the liturgical rite to this point, the homily, the singing, are all, in a way, preface. Now the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the altar. Father prays over them, using the Church’s liturgy. “This is My Body;” “This is the chalice of My Blood.” We adore what is no longer bread and wine. We receive into our own bodies the Body and Blood of Christ.

Is it this, then, that is the reason why, 20 years after my reception into the Catholic Church, I am still a Catholic? Is this tremendous fact what compensates for the lack, in many parishes, of the “bells and smells” which some of my Protestant friends think drew me into the Church? Not exactly. Not precisely just this – the reception of Our Lord. Let me explain. Certainly it is the Eucharist that keeps me a Catholic – but it is not the Eucharist itself. I could, after all, be Orthodox. The Church – the Roman Catholic Church – assures me that the Orthodox Churches have a valid Eucharist. If I were to attend one of the dozen or so Orthodox Churches in Auckland, I would receive Him – His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity – and I would experience a much more satisfying, beautiful, and, not to put too fine a point on it, reverent liturgy. My Orthodox friend tells me of the Divine Liturgy at the Serbian Orthodox Church. It causes my heart to long for the beauty that the Catholic Church could achieve – and does, in some Auckland parishes – approach.

It is not the Eucharist by itself that keeps me a Catholic.

I have written elsewhere of how I became a Catholic. I have been asked by (sadly few) Protestant friends which doctrine or doctrines of the Catholic Church made me a Catholic. Which Reformed teachings did I think wrong; which correct in the Catholic Church? What issue made me a Catholic?

This, I think, is to ask the wrong question. It is to put the cart before the horse; to assume that I became (and remain) a Catholic for what, at bottom, must be ideological reasons.

I became a Catholic to join the Church.

Becoming Reformed

I became a Christian on the night of Saturday 27th December, 1969 – probably, actually, early on the Sunday morning. I was 27 years old. I had had no religious experience at all before the night when, under the influence of LSD, I experienced what may be called an intellectual vision. Though I was aware of only as much of Christ as any completely secular young American may absorb from the surrounding culture, that night I knew that Jesus and the Devil were present to me, and that I could choose. I chose Jesus.

I had chosen a Christ with almost no content. I was at the time virtually without a place in the world. I was in the process of being divorced. I had dropped out of University. I was using drugs regularly. Had this not been the case, I have no doubt I would not so readily have reached out to the Hand offered me – would have been skeptical about there being any Hand at all, or anyone to extend it. I was in the position of a drowning man. Candace’s (my future wife Susan’s sister) testimony to me of her own experience was my only Christian story.

The next day I knew that I must put some content into this tiniest flickering flame of faith. I had no sort of Christian background. Susan had been brought up Anglican, but when I met her, she was not actively attending church. If she had been, it is likely I would have attended Anglican (Episcopal) worship with her. During those first weeks of 1970, I heard radio advertisements for Prince of Peace Lutheran Church’s evening youth services (complete with electric guitars). Sue and I began attending. Pastor Norman Hammer baptised me on the 26th of July, 1970. By then I was no longer a Lutheran.

By that statement, I mean that by then I was already a non-Sacramentalist. I was – albeit not very consciously – in the evangelical camp. This came about because I was being catechised by some wonderful people connected with an organisation called Campus Crusade for Christ (now called Cru). Campus Crusade is non-denominational. I do not think they would have objected if people involved with them were Catholic. Nevertheless, at least in our group, the default assumptions were evangelical; indeed, were Baptist. At no point could I have said that anyone presented me with any doctrines other than that Jesus had died for our sins, the Holy Spirit was there to help us live as we ought, and that we ought to bring others to faith in Christ.

But when, sometime after my own baptism in the Lutheran Church – perhaps around the end of 1970 – I listened to the words Pastor Hammer said in baptising a child: something along the lines of ‘God, Who has regenerated you by water and the Spirit…’ – I was shocked. I had by then read a certain amount of Lutheran theology (including much of Luther), but a greater amount of Baptist (and dispensationalist) theology. I knew, I would have said, that baptismal regeneration -was wrong. It was a form of magic. We were born again by believing. By 1971 I had persuaded Susan that we must become Baptists. We joined International Baptist Church. We were married there on 20 May, 1972. We were still members of that church on 31 January, 1973, when we left Honolulu for my first post-University job lecturing in linguistics at the University of Auckland.

In Auckland, we joined Hillsboro Baptist Church. It was near the flat we lived in. It was Baptist. But by now I was already on my way into the Reformed Church.

From the morning that I turned to Christ, I read. I read voraciously. I read the Bible through – have done about once a year since. I already knew Greek, as my degrees are in linguistics. I taught myself Hebrew. I began reading Christian writers.

John Calvin

Being in a Lutheran Church at the start, I read Luther, and Lutheran authors: Helmut Thielicke is the one I best remember. But soon, from the Campus Crusade influence, I began reading others. I read Spurgeon. I read a lot of dispensationalist authors. I read many popular writers. I read Lewis Sperry Chafer’s multi-volume Systematic Theology. I was introduced to Calvin (by Spurgeon) and read the Institutes. And I read church history – Philip Schaff’s three-volume history, a number of other works. I cannot, at this time depth, remember the names of most of the writers whose books I read.

And, slowly, I was becoming convinced that the Baptists, excellent although they were, were inadequate. In particular, their theology seemed to me simplistic; and they were so extremely clearly a very recent innovation in the history of Christianity.

For I had some independent knowledge of Christianity through historical study. I knew, in particular, that traditional Christian worship had baptised infants. The Baptists argued, of course, that this was an error. It was difficult for me to believe that almost all Christians through most of history had been wrong on this point. And I knew, as well, that Christian worship had been more … well, formal! … through most of its history.

Amongst the authors I had been reading, I especially found the writings of R. J. Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, Cornelius Van Til, and others in the Calvinist line convincing. Their theology was much more satisfying. I had become, by now, a Calvinist Christian. There were, of course, Calvinist Baptist churches in New Zealand. But there was a group called the Reformed Churches of New Zealand that was Calvinist, and baptised infants. The covenantal theology they taught to justify baptising infants convinced me. Sue and I began attending a Reformed Church. At the beginning of 1975 we joined the Avondale Reformed Church. When John, our first child, was born on 12 July, 1975, he was baptised there. When we left Auckland for me to work in the Education Department of the island of Yap, our official church membership remained with Avondale Reformed Church. We were members of Reformed Churches until 1995, when we left to become Catholics.

Being Reformed

I was excited about being Reformed – and I continued reading Reformed writers. I was reading van Til. Rushdoony had led me to him. Rushdoony led me also to Gary North, whose wife is Rushdoony’s daughter. And Gary North led me to Jim Jordan.

Jim Jordan was a Calvinist – at least I believe he would accept the label. However, by contrast with some more doctrinaire Calvinists, he was also interested in good thought wherever it could be found – whether amongst Protestant writers, or Orthodox, or Catholic. His own background had been Lutheran. He wrote exciting things. He seemed to think that we Calvinists had thrown out the liturgical baby when we had thrown out the legalistic bathwater of the Roman Church. He thought we ought to have Communion every Sunday. He thought baptized children should receive Communion. He thought the Reformed liturgy should look a lot like the Anglican – even, in some respects, the Catholic – liturgy.

We lived eight years in Yap. Our three other children – Helen, Eddie, and Adele – were born there. When, on our 12th wedding anniversary – 20 May, 1984 – we returned to Auckland, it was to start a Reformed Church – and I returned as an evangelist of Jim Jordan.

Reformed Church

Although my degrees are in linguistics, I have been involved in computer programming since my first year at University, in 1960. The computer was a tool for my linguistics. In Yap, in 1977, I had ordered my first personal computer. By 1980, I was doing more computing in aid of the Education Department’s needs than in relation to linguistics. And in 1980, two of my dearest friends – one now a Reformed minister – made an agreement with me, that if I moved to Pukekohe, a satellite town of Auckland, Richard would sponsor us as the nucleus of a Reformed Church. In 1983, based on my computing experience, I was offered a job as a programmer with the firm Ross then worked for in Auckland. Susan and I moved to Pukekohe. At the beginning of 1989 the Pukekohe Reformed Church was formally instituted.

I was Reformed – but I was also a disciple of Jim Jordan. I was sure that Jim was right about so much. One thing that he pressed was that communion should be a part of every Sunday’s worship. So I pressed my elders – and they agreed to move from a position of quarterly communion to bimonthly communion. Another matter that I was very hot about was the age of communion. Jim said that the qualification for receiving communion ought to be baptism. Baptism, not a certain age. But in our church in Pukekohe, to be a communicant member was to be able to vote in congregational matters. The age of Communion, said our elders, was ‘marriageable age.’

I became very upset about this. None of our children could commune. I wrote an angry letter to Session about the matter, accusing them of the ‘sin’ (my word) of withholding communion from the baptised. This event proved a turning-point in my growth. I was asked to meet with them. I was very angry. I was sure I was right and they were wrong. What they said to me had nothing to do with the question of who was right on the issue. What they did was to explain that Christ had established His Church as His agent in the world. It was up to the Church to spread the Gospel – and to govern the Kingdom. I had stated that I believed this, that I considered them, the elders of Pukekohe Reformed Church, my ‘rulers’ (Hebrews 13:17). If I wished to take the matter up, it could not begin with my accusing them of sin. It could be a matter for discussion.

In becoming members of a Reformed Church, we answer ‘I do’ to four questions in the Public Profession of Faith. The fourth is this:

“Do you promise to submit to the government of the church and also, if you should become delinquent either in doctrine or in life, to submit to its admonition and discipline?”

For the Reformed Churches of New Zealand belief in a visible Church was an essential. From a section of Church Government:

“The New Testament places a great deal of emphasis on the visible church, that is, on particular churches in each place where God is gathering His people together. The apostle Paul wrote Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians and the apostle John wrote letters to 7 churches in Asia Minor as dictated by Christ Himself. Our Lord Himself gave His church a procedure for dealing with sin in the congregation which makes clear that the church He is building comes to expression in visible congregations. The apostle Paul writes specific instruction to Timothy and Titus so that they might “know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).”

All of this makes clear that the visible church and how it is run (church government) is very important to our Lord. I may not have been completely Calvinistic; I was very definitely a churchman. I was shocked. I still thought I was right about the age of Communion. But I knew they were right about the Church. I wrote a statement retracting my intention to accuse them of sin. The matter itself rather faded out after that – but I was changed. I knew that they were right about the Church.

Something Missing

From 1975 I considered myself Reformed. Yet I felt a constant sense of something missing. I longed for … I knew not what. Although I had had no Christian upbringing at all, I had, in my imaginative life, an important exposure to Catholicism. As a teenager, I had read – and been deeply moved by – Sigrid Undset’s Lavransdatter. I have never been a keen reader of historical romances, but Kristin stuck with me. When I was at University, I found it in the library and read it again – and was so moved as to read also Undset’s The Master of Hestviken. That book gave me something I had never had before: a knowledge why Christianity made such a point of Jesus’s death. Olav, the ‘Master’ of Hestviken, hurrying home to his dying wife, is in an unconsecrated church – and meditates on the meaning of Christ’s Passion.1

Jesus thought He was God, dying for the sins of men!  I read this passage, and wept. I was staggered by such a conception.  It did not occur to me to wonder if this could be true.

Indeed, I do not know what content I might have put into a statement: ‘this man thinks he is God.’ I only knew that I was deeply moved by this idea, by the idea of this religion – and I identified this religion with Catholicism.

Until the night I became a Christian, I had little or no exposure to any religious ideas. Providentially, after my conversion, the writer I read and returned to time and time again with a real longing was C. S. Lewis.

But Lewis was not a Catholic.  Am I, perhaps, talking about Christianity in the ‘mere’ sense of Lewis’s “Mere Christianity?”

I do not think I am. The fact is that all of Lewis’s instincts are Catholic. His view of salvation as a ‘good infection’ (Mere Christianity) seems to me more akin to the idea of infused righteousness than that of the Reformed imputed righteousness. His writing is at odds with Calvinism at many points. I knew this, without really knowing how I knew it. All the 20 or so years I considered myself Reformed, I continued to read Lewis – but felt guilty doing so. I read him in secret. I would become unhappy about my Reformed worship in tears, at times – and would retire to my private office to read Lewis.

By 1991, I was thinking more and more about the Catholic-like practices: the Lord’s Supper as part of each Sunday church service, kneeling for prayer, a liturgy that more closely resembled what I thought of as Anglican but which was, really, Catholic. More accurately, my emotions were drawn more to these and similar things. Some songs that we sang before the service began – as I said above, we only used psalmody during the service itself – were translations of old Catholic hymns. One of my favourites was O Jesus Joy of Loving Hearts – a translation of St Bernard’s Jesu Dulcis Memoria.

Although this feeling is not the reason I became a Catholic – I could only become a Catholic because I believed it to be true – yet I think this emotional and instinctive feeling of missing is essential in explaining why, when I suddenly encountered the idea that Catholicism might be true, I was filled with a terrible fear – lest I be deceived – but with a great and deep joyous longing – that it might be true.

The Catholic Storm

In 1993, as part of my work as, by now, computer system administrator at the University of Auckland, I was connecting to the infant Internet. Today, the Internet is a part of everyone’s life. In 1993 it was my entry into a world I had not known existed. People from all around the world met together in this place. I discovered a Christian discussion group. There were people from all flavours of Christianity – including Catholics.

I had no conception of Catholics as … well, in truth, I had no conception of Catholics at all. My ideas were in fact simply imaginary stereotypes of one sort and another. There were Catholics here who seemed to understand the Christian faith – and to be convinced Catholics. I involved myself in one or another discussion – principally defending Catholics against Protestant misconceptions I knew not to be true.


Blessed John Henry Newman

Someone mentioned a Reformed minister who had become a Catholic. I was electrified. I had never heard of anyone becoming a Catholic. I knew of any number of examples of Catholics becoming Protestants. Who was this, I asked? The name Scott Hahn was given. Who was he? What did he write? My University library could have books of his.

‘No,’ someone said, books in the University library were unlikely. He had recorded tapes about his own conversion. If I was interested in books about Catholic converts, had I ever read Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua?

I had not. I had, however, heard of Newman. Newman was respectable in University circles, for he had written The Idea of a University, and University people read it, though I never had.

Francis Schaeffer had been an important early influence on me. In a taped talk of his that I had listened to, he had implied that Newman’s conversion to the Catholic Church had been dishonest. Newman had, Schaeffer had said, been exhausted by his struggles with liberalism. Newman, Schaeffer said, had wanted an infallible Church so that he would no longer need to work things out for himself. He had, in Schaeffer’s words, gone into the darkness of the Church and shut the door behind him.

I was terrified at being known to be seriously interested in Catholicism, but Newman was different. I thought of his writings as ‘serious literature.’ I went to the University library and got out Newman’s Apologia and his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. At about the same time I received, from one of the large number of kind, concerned persons in the Internet discussion group, a copy of Scott Hahn’s conversion tape, and one of Kimberley Hahn’s own story. I read both books in secret – I did not want my wife to know what I was doing! – and listened to the tapes, in my office, with earphones – instantly switching to the radio when Susan came in.

On 22nd September, 1993 – my 51st birthday – I knew I was in trouble. I had long since come to believe that many Catholic practices – such as communion as a part of every Church service – and some beliefs – such as Purgatory (which I had got from Lewis) were desirable and Biblical. As I finished reading Newman and listening to Hahn, I was horrified to find that I had come to think that the question was not what whether Reformed Christianity ought to bring back some Catholic practices and beliefs; the question was whether Jesus had in fact established a visible Kingdom on earth – and that that Kingdom might simply be the Catholic Church.

The ensuing ten months were the stormiest of my life. I have detailed something of what I experienced in the 1998 piece I referenced above. I re-read much of what I had read before in becoming, and being, Reformed. Many good people on the Internet sent me books, both for and against the Catholic Church. I consulted many on the Internet. I talked with the elder in our Reformed church who had been assigned as our family’s pastor. I talked (endlessly) with my family. I prayed. I prayed. I prayed.

Gradually, especially through reading Newman and other Catholic writers, I came to understand that the approach my Protestant – and a few Catholic – friends urged on me could not but fail. This approach was to compare the teachings of the Catholic Church with those of other Christian groups and to decide which taught the truth. In the nature of things, this could not succeed.

How was I to know which group taught the truth?
I was told I should consult the Bible. I should compare the teachings of the individual churches with what the Bible taught, and see which was most Biblical. But:
Why the Bible?
What books were the Bible?
What did the Bible teach?

The Bible is not, prima facie, a communication from God. As far back as 1985, in discussions with my Reformed pastor, I had been told that the truth and inspired character of the Bible had to be presupposed. I had to start with it; could not infer its nature from some other facts. If I did so, I was believing in myself, not in the Bible.

Further, in that same conversation, I had to presuppose the accuracy of the list of books in the Bible – in the Protestant Bible, forsooth! – in order to begin to think at all. Neither what the Bible was, nor what books constituted the Bible, were matters that could be proved from more fundamental premises. If I did so, I was believing in myself, not in God’s Word.

These considerations, nevertheless, were not of overwhelming practical importance. The contents of the Bible – at least the bulk of it, and, a decisive point, the New Testament – were agreed on by most Christians. I could start with the Bible in good company. The difficulty was with the teachings of the Bible.
For the Bible does not teach. The Bible records. People teach.

Some told me that the Sacraments were symbols only. Some told me that they were covenants that God made with me, but were not something independent of my faith in them. Some said that they were real things. For example, if I were baptised, God’s life was really made to exist in me, quite apart from my faith. Some said that there were two Sacraments, but I knew that most of Christians through most of history thought there were seven.

I was told that it was the clear teaching of Scripture that Baptism was a conscious testimony to the world of having been saved (and therefore should not be applied to infants). I was told that faith alone saved me – but that if my faith were alone – that is, did not show itself in works – that I had not truly believed.

The arguable nature of practically every Christian notion, from the very fundamental (the divinity of Christ; the personality of the Holy Spirit) to the smallest detail (must women cover their heads in Church?) cannot be doubted. All these issues are argued from the Bible. To discern the Church by its agreement with the Bible would be, in fact, to discern the Church by its agreement with my understanding of the Bible.

So I did what I had always done: I read. I re-read Van Til and Rushdoony; Luther and Calvin. I read many new books, books arguing for the truth of Catholicism and books arguing for its falsity. By June of 1994, nine months later, crisis came. I had read intensely. I had begun (in fear and trembling) attending weekday Masses at the University Newman Centre. I grew more and more terrified.

On a bus one sunny winter afternoon in June of 1994, I experienced fugue. It was not quite full loss of identity, but a terrifying state nonetheless. I had the dreadful conviction that God was determined that I must choose – and that He had determined that I would choose wrong, and be condemned for that choice. I got off the bus at a random stop. I thought I did not know where I was nor where I was going. I sat on a bench for perhaps an hour, simply trying to calm down.

In the event I did the only thing I could do: I rejected a malicious God, a God who was not only hidden but deliberately deceptive. I consciously refused to believe in such a God. If, I thought, I did my best to find the truth, either I would make the right decision, or God would lead me from there to the right decision. It was a turning point.

As it happened, Ronald Knox’s excellent book The Belief of Catholics was my freedom. Knox freed me, in particular, from the presuppositionalist trap. Speaking of the necessity of the use of ‘private judgement’ in approaching the Church, Knox says:

“Let me then, to avoid further ambiguity, give a list of certain leading doctrines which no Catholic, upon a moment’s reflection, could accept on the authority of the Church and on that ground alone.
The existence of God.
The fact that he has made a revelation to the world in Jesus Christ.
The Life (in its broad outlines), the Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The fact that our Lord founded a Church.
The fact that he bequeathed to that Church his own teaching office, with the guarantee (naturally) that it should not err in teaching.
The consequent intellectual duty of believing what the Church believes.”

That which I had begun to see in reading Newman Knox now made clear for me. Jesus left (again, in Knox’s words) not Christianity but Christendom. He left no writing; He left an authoritative body – His Body! He established a Kingdom. He fulfilled His holy people Israel, by incorporating them, with the Gentiles who would believe in His Name, into His own Body. This Body had an earthly as well as a Heavenly unity. This Body had come down to our own time. It was the Catholic Church. On a ‘plane from Wellington to Auckland at the end of July, 1994, I prayed: “Lord, I will never dot every ‘i’ or cross every ‘t.’ But I know enough to be certain that if You were to tell me I was to die tonight, I would want a priest. If You do not stop me, I am going to become a Catholic.

Coming Into Harbour

The ensuing seventeen months were characterised by frequent storms; a variety of obstacles had to be overcome. The article I referenced earlier describes this period in some detail. By late December, 1995,I had parted, in real tears and grief, with our Reformed minister, the elders, the congregation that we had been instrumental in establishing. Susan, my wife, and our four children, had all determined to enter the Catholic Church. We had gone through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). On the 23rd December, the day before we were to be received, the Diocese of San Francisco had judged my first marriage to be invalid (due to lack of due discretion).

That day – Saturday 23 December – we spent at the Sister’s house, making our retreat; making our first Confession (a terrifying, and, in the event, unspeakably good, experience). On Sunday morning – Christmas Eve – we affirmed:

“I believe and hold, what the Church believes and teaches.”

That confession contains, it seems to me, the essence of what it means to be a Catholic. It is not that I have sought the truth about this or that religious position, and then found that the Church agrees with me. The asymmetry of the Confession is precisely correct. It is the Church that teaches; I hold. The Church had accepted our Protestant Baptism as valid, so we were confirmed and received our first Communion. We were Catholics.

Looking Back

In 1848, Newman published Loss and Gain – his first publication after he was received into the Church on 9 October, 1845. In the novel, Charles Reding loses much – especially his family’s favor. In the event, the reader is told what he gained. An hour after his reception into the Church:

“[Charles] was … kneeling in the church of the Passionists before the Tabernacle, in the possession of a deep peace and serenity of mind, which he had not thought possible on earth. It was more like the stillness which almost sensibly affects the ears when a bell that has long been tolling stops, or when a vessel, after much tossing at sea, finds itself in harbor.”

I recall, with sadness, our Reformed pastor telling me, the night at the end of 1994 when I told him that I must become a Catholic, that this was yet another wild swing of my heart and mind; that within three years I would have left the Church; perhaps become a Muslim, or a Hindu. Newman, in the Apologia, concludes the history up to his reception, by writing:

“From the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no changes to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment. I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any difference of thought or of temper from what I had before. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of revelation, or of more self-command; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.”

So it has been with me. In the almost twenty years since I became a Catholic, our lives have gone through many changes. Our children have all grown up, of course, and left home. One has left the Church – indeed, for a time, struggled with belief in God, though now he is a keen Evangelical Christian. Sue and I have seven grandchildren. We are members, now, and, indeed, for the last seventeen or eighteen years, of Opus Dei, an organisation which helps us to seek holiness and sanctification in daily life. It is as difficult for me to imagine not being a Catholic as it would be for me to imagine having had different parents than I have. In John’s Gospel, Andrew and hear John Baptist refer to Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” They respond:

“And the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi’ – which means Teacher – ‘where do you live?’ He replied, ‘Come and see’; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour” (John 1:38-39).”

I said above, at the end of the first section, that I had become a Catholic, not because the Church believes this or that doctrine, which I know on other grounds to be true. I became a Catholic to join the Church. I became a Catholic because that is where Jesus lives: in His Body, the Church; in the Eucharist, His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. I became a Catholic to join the Church.

1 ‘Meditates!’ What a bloodless word for what I experienced! For those interested, the passage is in the last chapter, chapter 15, of the second volume of the English translation of the work, beginning with the words “The snow crunched under their feet as they came outside.”

Love,
Matthew

Truth

“I fear that for many, arguments in favor of the claims of Catholicism have not been tried and found wanting; they have been found inconvenient and left ignored.

And yet, this is a curious thing since every human being intrinsically desires the truth; that is to say, they wish to conform their minds to reality in order to live in the real world. No one wakes up in the morning hoping to be on the receiving end of lies and deceptions. No one loves to be lied to. Nobody craves delusion. We naturally desire to live in “the real world” preferring the real and the true to the fake and the false. No woman seeks a lying husband, and no employer is looking for dishonest employees. If there are objectively-binding traffic laws then naturally we want to know what they are (imagine a world where “your traffic laws are your traffic laws, and mine are mine”).

By knowing how things really are, we can act and react to them as they really are. We desire truth because we desire to live in the real world. We are, after all, what Aristotle called “rational animals.”

Our desire for truth stems from our desire to act rationally. Therefore the desire for truth is a deeply human thing. In the words of philosopher Robert Sokolowski, the desire for truth (or what he calls veracity) “is very deep in us, more basic than any particular desire or emotion…We are made human by it, and it is there in us to be developed well or badly.”

Seeking Truth

As humans we cannot choose whether or not to desire truth; that is inherent in our nature as humans. We can, on the other hand, choose whether we are going to act on—and cultivate—that desire.

St. Augustine understood the human person’s innate desire to know the truth of things. In his Confessions he reflected that he had “met many who wanted to deceive, but none who wanted to be deceived.” And can’t we confirm this truth about human nature by looking inside of ourselves?

Our interior experience confirms that, in the long run, we want the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Why?

Because truth leads to order; and as Augustine observed in The City of God, peace is the tranquility of order. So truth leads to order, order to peace, and ultimately, peace to happiness. In other words: truth fosters happiness. So if happiness matters then truth matters; and we have no good reason to doubt that happiness matters to all people. Aristotle, reflecting on “the highest of all goods achievable by action” observed that “the general run of men….say that it is happiness, and identify living well and faring well with being happy.”

But you cannot live well and fare well if you are not planning and living out your life in accordance with reality.

Insanity is not the way to real, lasting happiness.

What then if Catholicism is true?

What if being a devout believer really can lead to greater sanity and greater happiness—or even the greatest sanity and happiness?

The Catholic faith does not just offer a more complete vision of reality. The central promise of the Catholic faith is the everlasting fulfillment of all of our desires through union with God.

God promises—on the Catholic view—to prepare us in this life for the fulfillment of all our desires in the next. In other words, Catholicism offers a way—the Way—to everlasting happiness. For God promises to fill and complete us, to make us like him or what the New Testament calls “partakers of the divine nature.”

In other words, God wants to bring to fulfillment what it means to be made “in the image and likeness of God,” and He wants to do it in the fullest and most complete sense. And that is why we can agree with Pascal that to be saved by God and enter into eternal life in Christ is to “win everything.”

Some may reel at such incredible claims, thinking it rather arrogant for the Catholic Church to position itself as the “pillar and foundation of truth” and the one religion through which people can best realize happiness in this life and total fulfillment in the next.

What a claim!”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Henry Flood – from Methodist, to Evangelical, to Anglican, to Catholic

“My journey to Rome was a lengthy one, consuming two-thirds of a normal lifetime. I traveled nearly every highway and byway of Methodism, Southern Methodism, United Methodism, and many forms of Evangelicalism. From Methodism my spiritual journey led me to the via media of Anglicanism, across the Newman Bridge and finally, with the help of a devoted cradle Catholic wife of 25 years, Nilde, my friend Gloria, and the ever-present Virgin Mary, my journey to Catholicism was complete at the age of 65.

The Early Years

As the son of a conservative Methodist minister growing up in a staunchly evangelical environment in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s in South Carolina, Catholicism was unimaginable. Culturally, you just never thought about Catholics or what they believed.

In my younger years (1956 to 1963), my father’s ministry was new, vibrant, and exciting. I enjoyed my childhood faith so much that I was confirmed at age nine, although the usual age among Methodists was 12.

Then came the social and civil rights revolution in the Deep South.  These were difficult times socially and “the ordeal of change” caused great social and religious stress as I approached my early teen years. Not wishing to buy into the social gospel message sweeping through the Methodist and other mainline churches, my father left  the relative security of the Methodist Church to become a Southern Methodist minister.

In my mid to late teens, I began to feel some discomfort with the more fundamentalist viewpoints which tended not to be open to inquiry and reflection. We were Bible-believing Christians, with an Evangelical but not fundamentalist outlook.

Two examples come quickly to mind.  The first was the “Bible wars.” I grew up with the King James Bible(KJV) but had some familiarity with the Good News Bible (GNB) and the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Many Southern and Independent Methodist Churches rejected all versions of the Bible except the KJV. In their view, these other Bibles were not the Word of God; they were manufactured by liberals who used modern language to change the word of God. But in my reading of The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? by F.F. Bruce, I saw that such views were both illogical and untrue.

The second area of discomfort distinguishing fundamentalism from evangelicalism was the contempt for intellectual inquiry — especially questioning. If Christianity was merely a collection of set propositions, then what was to distinguish it from philosophy?  Bible and other religious reading was very important to me, and I read widely from the tenth grade forward. Such inquiry caused many questions and sometimes brought me into conflict with the viewpoints held by my father.

A Teen’s Question about Mary

One of my earliest inquiries around the young age of 15 concerned Mary. As a Bible reader, I noticed that there were passages of Scripture that mentioned Mary outside of the Christmas narrative. My recollections were that, when Mary was mentioned, it only addressed her role in giving birth to Jesus. During my Southern Methodist years, Mary only came out of the closet at Christmas time and then quickly returned to her dusty place with the artificial Christmas tree. Rarely, if ever, was Mary discussed except in anti-Catholic terms.

When I did inquire about the other Marian verses in the Bible, my early attempts to do so provoked one of three responses: stone-faced silence, anger, or an invitation to visit some liberal or Catholic group of idol worshipers. I wondered about Mary’s role beyond just giving birth to Jesus. My first serious theological question concerned the Incarnation. Jesus came and dwelt among us. I felt that Mary was more than just a vessel. Why did God choose Mary? She must have been a very special person. It seemed to me that you could not really talk about the Incarnation and ignore Mary’s words in the Annunciation (see Luke 1:26-35). In those years, Mary was just there, latent in the back- ground, but providentially there.

The Search for a Credible Christianity

One of my father’s last churches was in a suburb of Jacksonville, Florida. It was an “Independent Southern Methodist Church” — a church even more conservative than my experiences with the Southern Methodist church.

Although I ended up assisting my father during his last three months and even filling in for him in my early 20’s, such fundamentalism was bewildering to me. It seemed to have little to offer, and the blatant racism present among some of the church membership was likewise unsettling.

When I was 22, our family moved back to Folly Beach, South Carolina, a slender barrier island twelve miles south of Charleston where I had spent much of my childhood and high school years.  I had interrupted my college education while living in Jacksonville, Florida but resumed it after returning to Charleston. My chief desire at this time was to have a credible, non-fundamentalist faith that could engage both mind and heart.

The “New Evangelical” authors fed my intellect and made Christianity believable to me.  They gave me reasons to believe that were theologically and intellectually more convincing than what fundamentalism offered. C.S. Lewis demonstrated that deep learning and Christianity were compatible with each other. Donald Bloesch made reason and spirit come alive for me. Bernard Ramm introduced me to a serious reading of theology and to Karl Barth. F.F. Bruce made Bible history and theology interesting. His works,  The Canon of Scripture and  The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? opened many other vistas of Bible history and scriptural development. I encountered there the concept of oral tradition.

Some Dormant Years

Around this time, I met Rev. Earnest Dugan, a Methodist minister who ran a mission similar to those you might see in the Salvation Army. He engaged my mind while stressing the need for service to others. His sermons were inspiring and his explanation of Scripture was intellectually and spiritually rewarding.

Pastor Dugan presided over my marriage to a young lady who was Episcopalian, although I don’t recall ever visiting her church. We were married at the Folly Beach United Methodist Church in 1976. My new wife and I soon moved to new employment in southern Delaware. She worked in an allied health occupation while I did grants and governmental relations. We both drifted away from religious practice. It just happened, and I cannot really explain why.  Those were religiously dormant years for both of us. It was a difficult marriage, and six years later it ended. Being suddenly divorced and single was difficult.

The Potter’s House

I was newly living in Washington, D.C. and attending graduate school. As I worked my way through earning my Master’s degree in Legal Studies, I found myself involved on the fringes of urban ministry, helping poor people. One of my hangouts was the Potter’s House coffeehouse, a ministry of the Church of the Savior, located on Columbia Road in the heart of the Adams Morgan neighborhood.

The Potter’s House was much more than a coffeehouse. It was a religious bookstore, a place of lively local entertainment, and seekers of every description — even agnostics and atheists — gathered there to share and talk.  The Potter’s House re-connected me to religious reading, talking, and reflection. It fed my heart and mind.

The Potter’s House was the gateway to my religious renewal, serious intellectual engagement with theology, and reaching out to others with a sense of service that goes with a lived faith. I read my first Catholic book there,  The Wounded Healer by the noted Dutch Catholic Henri Nouwen.  This was followed by his book Reaching Out. I strongly identified with Nouwen’s pastoral theology and focus on serving others.

The Episcopal Experience

In Washington D.C., I found a much more open religious environment. A work colleague introduced me to the Falls Church Episcopal — the historic church of George Washington in Falls Church, Virginia, a city just west of metropolitan Washington, D.C. I had earlier read Robert Webber’s little book, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail.  Through Robert Webber and the witness of a friend, I discovered that one could be Evangelical and liturgical at the same time. At this time, in the mid-1980’s, Falls Church Episcopal was presided over by Rev. Dr. John Yates, a charismatic Evangelical with a decidedly Anglican focus. I fell in love with liturgical Christianity as found in the Book of Common Prayer.

I recall with fondness my visits to the Episcopal National Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in northwest Washington, D.C.  The music and liturgy was astoundingly beautiful. It was not long, though, before I discovered that there were many ways of being Episcopalian and that there was a tension between traditionalists and modernists contending for the heart and soul of the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church leadership nationally and in many of its parishes in Washington were of a decidedly liberal bent. I found that, in many of these parishes, you could believe almost anything and still be Episcopalian.  The church of John Yates held a minority position in that respect. Most troubling to me was the open talk of blessing gay relationships and ordaining gay women and men into the priesthood.

I found these theological events deeply troubling. How was it that a bishop such as John Shelby Spong could denounce key Christian beliefs reflected in the historical Episcopalian creeds and remain an Episcopalian in good standing? My thought began to be centered on what constitutes a real church. When does a church cease to be a church of the Creed? As I watched in horror this undermining of the Episcopal and other mainline churches, my question was, What should I do? Where can I go? Where is authentic belief and worship to be found?

A friendship and the Sacred Heart Years

My next steps on the journey were eight years of courtship and eventual marriage to a cradle Catholic named Nilde whom I met at  The Potter’s House in 1982. Our long friendship and courtship enabled us to safely talk and share. We read and talked together about life and especially about our respective faiths. I was the intellectual one; Nilde was more spiritual. We gravitated towards each other in the Potter’s House friendship. Every week we met at the same little table to read, talk, and enjoy the quiet piano lounge music.

My every Friday coffeehouse friend introduced me to the inside of a Catholic church, the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in northwest Washington. It was strange yet beautiful, a bit bewildering to my then Protestant sensibilities. Statutes of Mary were everywhere. She was beautiful, but the Rosary made no sense to me. Devotion to the Rosary would come some twenty years later.

During this time, John Paul II was in the prime of his papacy.  The “Catholic moment,” so to speak, had arrived, as Richard John Neuhaus and numerous others became Catholic converts, drawing many into the Catholic orbit — including me.

Week after week, I found myself in Nilde’s company at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. It was, and still is, run by a group of Capuchin Franciscans.  They received me openly, never asking me much about my faith.  They just fed me with friendship and fellowship.

Those I remember most were Brother Eric, who later became Father Eric, and Father Don, who is now Bishop of Mendi in Papua, New Guinea. We spent countless hours talking about faith and Catholicism. Catholic belief and practice seemed overwhelming to me at  first. I often wondered if I could be good enough to be Catholic; intellect and heart were not in line with each other at this time. But I kept going there, and no one pushed me away.

Nilde and I did urban ministry and youth ministry together at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. Soon we found ourselves in charge of thirty to forty young people of largely Central American heritage. Many of these young boys and girls were sent here for safety during the Central American wars of the 1980’s. Some had relatives, but for many the Church became their caretakers, their mothers and their fathers. Nilde and I became their “Padrinos,” although we ourselves did not have children.  Thirty of these youth formed half of our wedding party when Nilde and I married in October of 1990. I loved the Central American culture. I too was away from my South Carolina family, so these young people became my family.

Our devotion to Central Americans extended beyond the Washington, D.C. experiences. Nilde sponsored a young Honduran girl of eight in the early 1980’s. Over time, I became involved in the care packages we sent to Maria, and Nilde, with her mother, visited Maria in 1987. After our marriage, I became much more involved with Maria and her little community.  The Honduran people are uniformly poor but deeply spiritual.

Having no children of our own, Maria, and eventually her two children, became our foster family from afar. Over thirty years, we made eight trips to Honduras. We adopted Maria’s little community of fifty houses, known as Rancho Alegre.  Through fundraising, we brought electricity to their little village in the year 2000. We also reached out to the churches of her community and its 250 residents with medicines and other works of charity.

In the Fall of 2015, we had the good fortune of helping to re-build the church of our foster daughter at Rancho Alegre through receipt of a $6,000 foundation grant.  at church was re-dedicated this year on the Feast of Corpus Christi.

The Ratzinger Encounter

The next important step along the road to Catholicism was my accidental discovery of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) in a second-hand Washington bookstore. Washington was a hotbed of religious controversy in the 1980’s. Hans Kung had been declared to no longer be a Catholic theologian and Father Curran was dismissed from his teaching position at Catholic University. I remembered that Joseph Ratzinger had something to do with this.  The Ratzinger Report caught my attention, and it was only fifty cents.

Unknown to the cardinal, we became intellectual friends after reading this and another tome entitled  The Theology of Joseph Ratzinger, also purchased in that same Second Story Books for a mere two dollars.  The issue then and now revolved around what makes a church authentic and true, as distinguished from a social club or debating society. His book Called to Communion, a series of short essays on ecclesiology, was important for me.  These essays addressed the critical question of what it means to be a Church.

Ratzinger was Christ-centered in his theology and demonstrated an extraordinary command of scriptural interpretation — something that any serious Anglican evangelical could appreciate.

One of the most unforgettable moments of my life occurred when Nilde and I were in Rome on a religious tour in 2007.  The highlight of our visit to the Vatican was a chance to greet Pope Benedict during a Wednesday audience in 2007.

Mary once Again

Remembering my earlier focus on the Incarnation, I began to inquire anew about Mary.  The first explicitly Marian book I read was Mary for All Christians by the Anglican theologian, John Macquarrie. He confirmed my earlier suppositions. Mary made sense, at least from an Anglican and ecumenical perspective. My suspicions were confirmed that Mary belonged to the economy of salvation.  Theological appreciation, though, was far from constituting Catholic devotion.

Mary’s influence grew gradually. Ratzinger’s Daughter Zion, a small book of essays on Mary, convinced me that Mary must be important in any Christian church, Catholic or otherwise. I also read Our Lady and the Church by Hugo Rahner and Mary for Todayby Hans Urs von Balthasar. These works impelled me to undertake a deeper, extended study of Mary and Marian doctrine in Catholic and ecumenical perspectives, eventually leading to my writing  The Virgin Mary — A Resource Guide for Laypersons.

Good Enough to be Catholic?

So why wasn’t I Catholic yet?  The short answer to this question might be found in a quotation from the philosopher Renan, who said, “No one has a religion until they have lost it.”

That quote embodies my forty-year journey to a faith that is credible to both heart and mind.

A Christianity that engages the heart but denigrates the mind is deficient. I felt uneasy. In order for Christianity to be credible, it has to offer something more than fire insurance. I had lost my fundamentalism and visited varieties of Evangelicalism, then the American Episcopal Church — only to discover that what I thought was an authentic church was in fact something else.

At the same time, I was wary of exchanging Protestant fundamentalism for Catholic fundamentalism. Father Francis Sullivan, S.J. helped me to understand that, despite a “Deposit of Faith,” our knowledge is partial.  There are open questions whose resolution may only emerge gradually.  That was reassuring.

I have a special affinity to Cardinal Dulles, who wrote of his conversion in 1946: “The only sufficient cause for any conversion, is, of course, divine grace, for which man can give no ex- planation.” But we both agreed that one can describe how God influences or acts through others to impact our will.

For nearly thirty years, I was a fellow traveler within the Catholic orbit.  Through deep reading and participation as an interloping “guest,” I simply ceased to be Protestant. Like Cardinal Newman, I read myself into a Catholic mindset.

But I could not fully own my Catholicism.  There were barriers. My former wife could not be located, so I could not proceed with the annulment process and pursue being received into the Catholic Church. And I constantly wondered if I was “good enough” to be Catholic. It is surprising how such a doubt can be a barrier for someone considering becoming Catholic.

Seeking a New Spiritual Home

We loved Washington, D.C., but changes in life are inevitable. Nilde and I moved to Miami in 1993 so she could be with her parents during their final years, because Nilde was an only child. At first, we attended Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church in Miami, since that was where Nilde’s parents lived. It was also Nilde’s parish church growing up. We went there every weekend because I began singing in a local restaurant near their home every Saturday. Singing from the American song book was a carry- over from my Washington days, having spent countless hours in Washington’s piano lounges. After visiting several Catholic parishes closer to our home in Aventura, Florida, we eventually found a permanent home at St. Matthew Catholic Church.

Mary for a Third Time

Following Nilde’s recovery from spinal cancer and regaining her ability to walk in 2007, we began volunteering for Memorial Regional Hospital and became members of the Legion of Mary.

Our devotion to Mary grew steadily, and I enjoyed the supportive fellowship of my Legion of Mary friends. As my devotion to Mary increased, I wondered where she was leading me.

At the Legion of Mary, I found a special apostolic partner in Gloria Ippolito. Providence joined us together in a ministry of faith and reaching out to others — especially at funeral wakes.

But my journey was not quite over.  There was my former marriage still to be dealt with.

After years of searching, I did locate my former wife.  The process moved quickly throughout 2014, and the marriage was declared null on May 5, 2015. I went through RCIA a second time.

Now I  finally felt that I could own my Catholicism.  The reality is that Mary brought me home, offering me the fullest expression of Christian truth — the Catholic Church. And my wife, Nilde, was enduringly important too. She was my Monica who prayed constantly for her famous intellectual son, Augustine.

The riddle of my forty years of wandering and deep reading was answered. All that study suddenly came into focus one September day in 2014. I was asked by our Legion of Mary president to give a talk, a study reflection, at the regional Legion of Mary meeting.  The topic was John the Baptist. As I pored through the mass of materials I had gathered, I asked Mary for help. What was the message for me? What was the message for my audience of fifty to seventy other Legion members?

One of the amazing things I discovered was that John the Baptist was the patron saint of my birthplace, Charleston, South Carolina.  The mission of John the Baptist was simply to declare the word, to make straight the ways of the Lord and announce that salvation was coming. John the Baptist is now my Patron Saint too.

Mary gave me one more affirmation through a special Providence of God. June 5, 2015 marked the ten-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. While planning for a Pilgrim Virgin Visit ceremony in my home to mark this occasion, I ran across something I thought had been lost forever. It was a beautiful icon prayer card of Our Lady of Joyful Hope and Our Lady of South Carolina.  The prayer card and the story behind its creation recalled the motto of my home state: “While I breathe, I hope.” I had often quoted this state motto as I awaited what I hoped would be a blessing of my marriage to Nilde and full reception into the Catholic Church. How incredible were the graces of Mary throughout this long journey!

My formal reception into the Catholic Church and convalidation of my marriage to Nilde Martinez took place on June 29, 2015 on the Feasts of Saints Peter and Paul. My confirmation took place at the Cathedral of Saint Mary in Miami, Florida.

A Second Call

I  am determined not to refuse a second calling to declare the word.  That day in September of 2014 was a seminal moment. Mary and John the Baptist have called me to truly declare the word. I had been doing this increasingly through the delivery of short devotions and presiding at funeral wakes. Each time I did these things I felt affirmed by the Holy Spirit to keep doing them.

This affirmation led me to think about what I should really be doing. During some of my trips to Honduras, I discovered people in remote areas of Honduras who did not have regular access to a parish church and the sacraments.  The Honduran Catholic Church filled in these gaps with Delegates of the Word, something similar to deacons when priests were not available. Delegates of the Word.  That concept resonated with me.

I needed a platform to host my writing, speaking, and special works of charity, so I created the Delegates of the Word organization to be the means for doing my apostolic work.  Through this organization, I am reaching out to others by writing, speaking, and teaching in whatever venue that might be open. I do not know where this will lead, but at a minimum, Delegates of the Word can serve as a means for me to unpack forty years of constant Catholic and ecumenical study for laypersons and anyone else who might care to listen.

Was the Journey Worth it?

Non-Catholics might wonder, what really made you Catholic? What about your Evangelical and Anglican heritage? I think it would be accurate to say that I read and studied myself into the Catholic Church.

The second factor has to do with ecclesiology. What is a true Church as distinguished from a club or a debating society? What I discovered was that the Catholic Church has the fullest expression of cumulative truth contained within its history, tradition, worship, and theology. As Thomas Howard said, the Catholic Church is “Evangelical plus.” Authority and ecclesiology are linked together.

Intellectually, Benedict XVI and many of the theological giants of the Ressourcement movement that ushered in Vatican II informed my mind and spirit. It is especially true of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henry de Lubac, and the Jesuit theologian Francis Sullivan.

Long before becoming officially Catholic, Mary was there as a tiny mustard seed in my consciousness. She was the cause of my first serious theological question. Over time, she gradually grew larger, and through my eight years of Legion of Mary affiliation, she, Nilde, and my apostolic friend, Gloria, led me through the final journey.”

Love,
Matthew

“By their fruits…” Mt 7:16-20, the role of works in salvation


Karl Keating

Faith & Salvation are gifts

“Fr. William G. Most (1914-1997) will not end up numbered among first-rank apologists, but his book Catholic Apologetics Today (now out of print) came to my attention just when I could profit from it. It appeared as I was putting together the newspaper columns that, when collected and revised, became my first book.

Every Fundamentalist I have dealt with—or so it has seemed—has faulted the Catholic Church for teaching, supposedly, that we are saved through good works. We earn our salvation by what we do.

Although I took the usual route of referring Fundamentalists to James 2:17 (“faith without works is dead”), I learned early on that that scriptural verse failed to make much of an impress on them.  A few seemed to be wholly unfamiliar with that book. That might seem unlikely, given that Fundamentalists style themselves “Bible Christians,” but many of them read (or study) only those parts of the Bible recommended to them by their preachers. Those who read the whole of the Bible often have little appreciation of the import of some passages, such as John 6, in which the Eucharist is promised and described. James’s comment on works is another. “Faith without works is dead” either is passed over or, at most, is interpreted to mean that good works have no significance higher than public affirmation of having “accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” Doing good works is a good thing—but not a necessary thing.

It was through reading Most that I adopted a formulation that helped clarify the discussion. It came from his making a distinction between the way James wrote about faith and the way Paul wrote about it. They used the same word but in differing senses.

“Is it true that there is salvation in faith alone?” asks Most. “Definitely, yes!” It is “the chief theme of Galatians and Romans.” Yet James could write that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24)—a seeming contradiction.

Either salvation is by “faith alone,” as Luther so imperiously insisted, or it is not; either it comes through faith and nothing else or through faith plus something else. Which is it?

Most made the obvious point that the issue here is with the meaning of the word faith as used by the two apostles. The word was not used univocally. James “clearly uses faith to mean, narrowly, just intellectual acceptance of a revealed truth.” To faith in that restricted sense one needs to add good works. We see this confirmed by Paul himself in Romans 2:6: “He will repay to man according to his works.”

Here comes the crucial part. Most says that “Paul does not mean that works can earn salvation—but violation of the law can earn eternal ruin.” (do good/avoid evil*.  how? by doing good!) Paul does not disagree with James, but he uses a broader sense of faith: “total adherence of a person to God in mind and will. This, in turn, implies certain things.” Chief among the implications is that works have a kind of negative role to play in salvation, this being the main takeaway I had from Most. We can affirm that salvation is through faith, but salvation can be forfeited through sin. Salvation is a gift, but any gift can be rejected or returned to the giver. Something taken on by compulsion (Ed. or forced on you, i.e. slavery, the “gift” of faith) is not a gift.

Once a Christian is in the state of grace (Ed. the “readiness/worthiness/ability to receive/having received” the gift), through baptism or through repentance followed by sacramental confession, s/he is, at that moment, “saved”: were s/he to die in that state (Ed. of grace, readiness/worthiness to receive/having received), he would end up in heaven, even if with a sojourn through purgatory. But his/her state is precarious. There is no adult Christian who has not fallen out of grace through sin. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Someone who has not fallen short of the glory of God, however transiently, is someone who is imbued with God’s grace (Ed. “O Mary conceived without sin…”; Hail Mary, full of grace…, Immaculate Conception, Assumption, etc.); to fall short is to fall into gracelessness.

The key, then, is not to fall out of grace. This where works come in (do good/avoid evil. how? by doing good!), both good works and bad works. Bad works are sins. Through mortal sins (Ed. those which are serious, intentional, which “kill” the life of grace within us, the symptom being, likely, a guilty conscience, if not scrupulous) we lose sanctifying grace and thus salvation. What about good works? (do good/avoid evil. how? by doing good!) They don’t earn us salvation but they do something nearly as valuable: they keep us from throwing salvation away. (do good/avoid evil. how? by doing good!) To persist in good works is to avoid evil works, sins (do good/avoid evil. how? by doing good!). Those who habitually perform good works habitually avoid (but they do not necessarily always avoid) sins that destroy grace.  (Ed. “The devil’s playground…”, Prov 16:27.)

This was, for me, Most’s most valuable point. The Fundamentalist, thinking about Catholicism’s insistence that good works are necessary, thinks we believe that we bring salvation to ourselves. (Pelagianism) The Catholic can answer by saying that good works are shields against bad works (do good/avoid evil. how? by doing good!) (Prov 16:27.). Without good works, there is no prospect that a Christian can maintain grace in his soul, the opportunities to fall from grace being ubiquitous and, often enough, seemingly irresistible. Help is needed if they are to be resisted, and that help comes in the form of habitually performing good works, whether in the form of prayer, almsgiving, or something else.

It wasn’t that Most told me something I had not known, but he told it to me in a way that I had not seen before, at a time when I needed a clearer way to convey Catholic teaching to those who were sure the Church was teaching something contrary to Scripture.  Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering spectacles of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across spectacles that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision.”

-from https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/faith-and-works-0, this is GOOD!!!  You SHOULD read the WHOLE thing!!!  I didn’t say “easy”.  I just said GOOD!!!!

“Following the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church held an ecumenical council in the Italian city of Trent to deal with the theological questions that were being debated. The Council of Trent issued the Decree on Justification (DJ), which set forth the Catholic position on the subject…This is the case with the idea that we need to earn our place before God by doing works…According to Trent, “none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace (Ed. gift) of justification. ‘For, if by grace, it is not now by works, otherwise,’ as the Apostle says, ‘grace is no more grace’” (DJ 8, quoting Rom. 11:6).

When we come to God and are justified, it happens WITHOUT ANY MERIT ON OUR PART (emphasis added). Neither our faith nor our works—nor anything else—merits justification...If you go through Trent’s Decree on Justification, or the section on justification in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1987-1995), you won’t find the phrase “faith and works.” And you won’t find the word works at all in the Catechism’s section on justification.

This may be surprising, but the fact that the magisterium does not express its teaching in this way is a signal that we need to look more closely at what it says….

…Earlier we mentioned that Protestants tend to conceive of justification as an event that occurs at the beginning of the Christian life (Ed.  “I accept Jesus Christ as my PERSONAL? (what about everybody else?) Lord & Savior! = saved) where we are forgiven and declared righteous by God, and we said that this understanding is true as far as it goes.

But in the Catholic view, there is more to justification than this.

In the first place, God doesn’t simply declare us righteous. He also makes us righteous in justification. Thus the Council of Trent defined justification as “not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inner man” (DJ 7).

So at the beginning of the Christian life (being “saved”), God forgives our sins and gives us the gift of righteousness.

But He’s not done with us!!!  (Ed. how is THIS NOT obvious?) He wants us to grow in righteousness over the course of the Christian life, and, if we cooperate with His grace, we will.

Catholic theology refers to this growth in righteousness using the term justification, so, in Catholic language, justification isn’t something that happens just at the beginning of the Christian life. It happens over the course of the Christian life. (Ed. Phil 2:12)

The Council of Trent harmonizes the necessity of grace and works: “If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or by the teaching of the Law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema” (Session 6; can. 1).


-stop screaming. it’s a JOKE!!!! 🙂

Love, and the JOY of DOING (Ps 40:8, Jn 4:34) His will, in faith, by grace.  ALL is grace.  ALL is gift.,
Matthew

* Many proponents and critics of Thomas Aquinas’s theory of natural law have understood it roughly as follows. The first principle of practical reason is a command: Do good and avoid evil. Man discovers this imperative in his conscience; it is like an inscription written there by the hand of God. Having become aware of this basic commandment, man consults his nature to see what is good and what is evil. Ps 37:27, 1 Pet 3:11

Two Objectors to the Catholic faith: Mr. Certainty & Mr. Robot

Devin Rose

Two Protestants You Will Meet

Honestly, being a Catholic apologist has its downsides. One is that people feel they can email you out of the blue with a list of arguments against the Catholic Church and then demand you respond. Over the years I’ve received many such emails, some rudely written, others genuinely seeking answers. One upside to these messages, though, is that they give me insight into a broad swath of Protestant Christians and the varied obstacles that they face. I have noticed that many of those Protestants resemble one of two types: the Certain Guy and the Robot

The Holy Spirit Certainty Guy

Charles was a Protestant who emailed me, describing something of his history as a Christian: going from one denomination to another many times over the years as his beliefs changed and he decided his current church was in error.

His meanderings had finally made him wonder if, perhaps, Catholicism was what it claimed to be. “Maybe there is a true Church?” he asked. When a Protestant comes to this question on his own, it is a wonderful thing. It indicates an openness to the possibility that the whole Protestant paradigm may be mistaken; instead maybe God did preserve the Church from error.

In the second half of his email, however, Charles listed his chief objections to Catholicism, notably the Church’s beliefs about Mary. Charles ended by saying:

“I am a Christian struggling with the dilemma of where to gather among other Christians to worship God—but the issue of praying to Mary is a stumbling block, or should I rather say, heresy in my opinion, which I regard as equal to idolatry and which will keep me very far away from the Roman Catholic Church.”

Charles’s candor was refreshing. He said very directly that he could not imagine becoming Catholic due to what he saw as heresy. In my response, I gently nudged him with questions about how he knew what Christ and the apostles taught and how he knew that his interpretation of Scripture was accurate. I also gave evidence for the perpetual virginity of Mary and the intercession of the saints. I kept it to a few paragraphs and waited for his response.

Charles opened his reply thanking me for my email, but then he said “However, I am still completely unconvinced by your reasoning—and I know that I indeed do have the Holy Spirit who leads me into all truth and he is not leading me to believe what you have suggested.”

Ah, there it was! He believed that he had the Holy Spirit and read John 16:13 to mean that the Spirit will lead him individually into all truth. He was sure that the Holy Spirit was showing him that I was in error and that he was not.

Striking At the Root

When you encounter the Certainty Guy, you could respond to his impregnable certainty with an equally confident assertion, as I did: “I also have the Holy Spirit and am unconvinced by your reasoning, so we are at an impasse. Further, Martin Luther and John Calvin believed they had the Holy Spirit, and they rebutted other Protestants who held the same interpretation that you did about Mary’s perpetual virginity. So our impasse deepens.”

In this brief exchange we exposed the fundamental problem of Protestantism. He claims he’s right because he has the Holy Spirit. I claim that I’m right for the same reason.   And according to Protestantism, no person or church or institution can adjudicate our competing claims. In any dialogue with a Protestant it is important to reach this point, so that your friend can realize the unresolvable dilemma that his beliefs create.

Charles emailed back telling me that he “does not arrogantly pick and choose” his beliefs as I suggested. Of course, I never claimed that his choosing was done in arrogance, only that he was indeed picking and choosing: picking which issues were essential versus non-essential, and choosing what to believe on each of those issues. Even if he did not do it arrogantly, the fact remained that he was doing it, and that under Protestantism’s paradigm he had no choice but come up with an individual belief on every issue he came across.

It is instructive that even though I said nothing about him acting arrogantly or capriciously in choosing his beliefs, Charles inferred that I made such an accusation. Misunderstandings like this occur often in any discussion about beliefs. Faith abides deeply within us, and any perceived challenge to our beliefs can result in a defensive reaction, even if our discussion partner acts in a completely amiable way.

Our email exchange continued for a bit longer and wended toward the question of whether sola scriptura was true, but for our purposes here the main point has been shown. When you face Certainty Guy, who is absolutely confident in his interpretation of Scripture and of the Holy Spirit’s guidance, simply push back, without any rancor, that you can claim the same thing, and so reveal a conundrum.

The One-Way Street

About six months after my book The Protestant’s Dilemma was published, I received an email from a Protestant man (whom I’ll call Louis) directing me to his website where he was making a chapter-by-chapter rebuttal of my book. He was brief but respectful enough, so I went and checked it out. His was the first substantive attempt to rebut my arguments, so I was interested in what he had to say.

Unfortunately, his site had the look-and-feel of a Web 1.0, circa 1998 site hand-coded in basic html. Even though as a computer programmer I winced, I was able to ignore that, but since he was attempting a rebuttal one chapter at a time, I also had no way of knowing when he posted more updates for me to read.

I kindly emailed Louis and suggested he go with a standard blogging website, which would allow him to publish each of his rebuttal attempts as blog posts that I and others could subscribe to. He paid no attention to my suggestions and instead just kept sending me short emails, about once a day, that had a link in them to his argument web pages.

I figured that I would give him another chance to interact in a constructive way, so I went to one of his links, read his argument, then sent him an email rebutting the argument. In this particular case, he was denying that Mary was the mother of God. I explained why this title is valid, but he ignored my argument and sent me yet another link to his web page.

At that point I realized I was dealing with someone uninterested in interacting like a human being. Rather, like a machine he wanted to blast his arguments at me—whether they were sensible or not—and didn’t want to have a discussion. It was a one-way street. I called him out on this and said I would automatically filter his emails into the trash if he continued this robotic behavior. He immediately continued it, and I filtered his emails. The next day he emailed me from a different address!

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Most Protestants, thankfully, are not robots like Louis. But some are, and possibly you will encounter one, whether virtually or in person. Keep in mind that you are not obligated to respond to them or to play by their (lopsided) rules. In my experience, interacting with such people goes nowhere, as they are not truly open to discussion and honest analysis of the arguments.

Instead, they are locked into existing beliefs that see Catholicism as apostate or heretical, and have one goal: to disseminate attacks against the Church in rapid-fire fashion.

And remember, even when people act in such exasperating ways, seek to forgive them. Pray for them—the best thing and often the only thing that you can do—and leave them in our Lord’s hands. You hope to see them and be with them in heaven one day, in spite of their errors and your own faults and weaknesses.”

Love, and the love of neighbor it takes to explain, without being defensive, patiently, calmly, kindly, lovingly, which comes only from His grace,
Matthew

Baptism

Introducing the Church Fathers

Your Protestant friend has may have never heard of the Church Fathers (I certainly hadn’t when I was a Protestant). These were faithful and influential Christians teachers, pastors, and leaders who taught and defended the Faith from the late first century through the sixth. Many, though not all, are considered saints by the Catholic Church.

Given the impasse some Protestants face about how to interpret the Bible on baptism, it makes sense to start with that topic and bring in other evidence. And though your friend may not know much about the Fathers, he will likely be favorably disposed to hearing what the early Christians believed, since (especially with the Fathers of the first couple of centuries) there wouldn’t have been much time for the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to have been corrupted. So, what did these early Christians have to say about baptism?

The Church Fathers on Baptism

Start by sharing with your friend what St. Justin Martyr wrote about baptismal regeneration in the middle of the second century:

“I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them.

They then are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water….The reason for this we have received from the apostles.

And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”

Notice how Justin explains that baptismal regeneration remits our sins but also reveals that this teaching was received from the apostles. Justin was born around the time of the St. John’s death, so many Christians of his era still had living memories of the apostles themselves.

Another great Church Father from the second century who witnessed to the truth of baptismal regeneration was St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, a disciple of St. Polycarp who himself was a disciple of St. John. Irenaeus pulls no punches in pointing out that to deny baptism’s regenerating effects is to renounce the entire Christian faith.

“And when we come to refute them [i.e. those heretics], we shall show in its fitting-place, that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole [Christian] faith.”

This is only a small selection. Both of these saints wrote even more about baptismal regeneration, as did other Church Fathers and early Christians in the second century. Once we get to the third century, the writings that support baptismal regeneration multiply. This early Christian witness to baptismal regeneration is unanimous. If this teaching were heretical and contradicted the apostles, you would expect at least a few leaders in the early Church to have stood up in protest of it, but not a single one does—or even offers an alternative interpretation for the relevant verses.

Present this historical evidence to your friend and give him time to respond. But be careful: the Church Fathers are Catholic to the core, and their writings contain many teachings that simply aren’t reconcilable with Protestant doctrine. You’ll want to introduce them to your friend gently and give him time to absorb the evidence they provide for the Catholic Church.

Some Protestants put little stock into what ancient Christians wrote, unless it is explicitly contained in the New Testament itself, so your friend may simply dismiss these writings. He may propose that they’re forgeries or that they represent a misleading sample of what the early Christians. You can patiently explain that even Protestant historians accept these works as genuine and as representative of what was being taught in the early Church. It’s not totally impossible that they represent a minority view, that other early Christians were teaching doctrines in agreement with modern Protestantism, but the simple fact is there’s no existing evidence that there were.”

Love, and new life & joy through baptism,
Matthew

Are alternate theories to the Resurrection plausible?

The Bible says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead then the Christian faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:17). However, if Jesus did rise from the dead then we know Jesus can keep His promise to give everyone who follows Him eternal life (1 John 2:25).

But how can we know that Jesus really rose from the dead and that the Bible’s description of this miracle wasn’t just a story someone made up?

One way is by showing that the Resurrection is the only explanation for the events surrounding Jesus’ death, events that almost everyone, including skeptics, agrees are historical.

As we examine some of the various theories put forward to explain these facts, you will see that only one theory explains 1) Jesus’ death by Crucifixion; 2) his empty tomb; 3) the post-Crucifixion appearances to the disciples; and 4) the disciples’ willingness to die for their faith: the theory that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

The Swoon Theory

One way to explain these facts would be to posit that Jesus never really died. Maybe he just passed out on the cross and woke up in a tomb. Jesus then met up with the disciples who mistakenly thought he’d risen from the dead. But even if Jesus somehow survived the Crucifixion, the apostles would never have thought he’d miraculously risen from the dead. Upon seeing his bloody, mutilated body, they would have thought Jesus had cheated death, not beaten it, and quickly gotten him medical treatment.

The Trash Theory

How do we know Jesus wasn’t just thrown into an anonymous grave and was forgotten until the disciples imagined they saw him alive again?

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 prohibited the Jewish people from leaving a criminal hanging on a tree, so Jesus would have to have been buried immediately after he died on the cross.

The Gospels say Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council that condemned Jesus to death, buried him (though John 3:1-2 tells us Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but in secret, out of fear of the other Jewish leaders). If the Gospel writers had invented the story of Jesus being buried in a tomb, they would have given their leader an honorable burial at the hands of his friends and family.

This means we have good historical evidence that after the Crucifixion Jesus’ body was placed in an identifiable tomb and simply didn’t vanish in a common graveyard.

The Hallucination Theory

Most historians agree the disciples thought they saw the risen Jesus. The story of Jesus appearing to them was not a legend that developed centuries later but was recorded by the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15:3-7). It is almost universally recognized among historians that Paul existed, we have the letters he wrote, and Paul knew the people who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus (Gal. 1:18-19). But could those experiences have just been hallucinations brought on by the terrible grief these men endured after Jesus was executed?

First, it is individuals, not groups, who almost always experience hallucinations. Multiple biblical authors confirm that groups of Jesus’ disciples claimed to see him after his death (Luke 24:36-49, 1 Cor. 15:5-6). As psychologist Gary Collins writes, “By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people.”

Second, the theory that Jesus’ depressed disciples hallucinated his Resurrection doesn’t explain why enemies of the Church came to believe in the Resurrection. The most famous example would be St. Paul, who was a Jewish leader who persecuted the Church until an encounter with the risen Christ moved him to join the “Jewish heresy” he had been persecuting. The best explanation for such a sudden conversion is that Paul had a real encounter with the risen Christ.

The Empty Tomb

We’ve already seen that it is historically certain Jesus was buried in a locatable tomb. The Gospels tell us that on the Sunday after the Resurrection a group of women discovered the tomb was empty. But why should we believe Jesus’ tomb was empty and that the authors of the Gospels didn’t make this up?

First, the disciples preached the empty tomb in the city of Jerusalem. If the tomb were not empty, enemies of the early Church could easily have taken the body out of the tomb and proven Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Second, the earliest enemies of the Church agreed that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Matthew’s Gospel says the Jewish leaders of his day (about forty to fifty years after the Crucifixion) believed Jesus’ body was stolen from the tomb (Matt. 28:11-15). The second-century Christian writer St. Justin Martyr also says that the Jews of his time believed Jesus’ body was stolen.

Finally, the Gospels include the testimony of women discovering the tomb. In Jesus’ time a woman’s testimony was considered to be as reliable as that of a child or a criminal. If the Gospel authors had invented the story about Jesus’ tomb being found empty, they would have used trustworthy characters like Peter or John. The embarrassing detail about women discovering the empty tomb was included in the story simply because that’s what really happened.

The Fraud Theory

Is it possible the disciples stole Jesus’ body and then told people their Messiah had risen from the dead? It’s not impossible, but this theory seems extremely unlikely.

Moreover, fraud is normally committed for personal gain; the only thing the disciples had to gain from their fraud was persecution and death. Since people don’t knowingly die for a lie, we can be confident Jesus’ disciples really believed in the Resurrection they preached to others.

There is no chance they were all deceived or that they all chose to die painful deaths in order to deceive others. What’s more likely is that Jesus’ Resurrection really happened and gave them the courage to share this good news in the face of persecution. They knew that even if they were to die through Christ they would live forever. We too can have eternal life if we trust in God’s promises and choose to be baptized into the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:3-5).

Why We Believe: The Resurrection

Even skeptics admit that Jesus was crucified, buried, his tomb was found empty, his disciples saw him after his death, and they were willing to die for that truth.
Other explanations, like hallucination or fraud, only explain some of these facts. The most plausible explanation for all these facts is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

Love & Easter joy,
Matthew

The “Savage Forest” – Dante’ Alighieri, the Divine Comedy, & the disordered soul


-by Br Irenaeus Dunlevy, OP

“A windswept forest on a cloud-covered night creaks, cracks, and moans, sending chills up and down the spine. Trees waving and wagging on their upward path have elbowed for the brightest spot in the sun. They’re intertwined. When the wind blows, they rub, and a humanlike agony echos through the woods.

The 13th-century poet Dante Alighieri begins his famed supernatural epic, The Divine Comedy, with such an eerie scene. Yet, how did he end up in this ‘savage forest’? He writes,

“I cannot well repeat how there I entered,

So full was I of slumber at the moment

In which I had abandoned the true way.”

Before Dante’s journey spirals into the depths of hell, climbs the steep slope of purgatory, and soars into the luminous heights of heaven, he stands confused, lost, and alone. He questions, “How did I get here?” Unsure of the answer, he is sure of one thing: he’s on the wrong path.

It’s familiar, becoming lost, making a wrong turn, missing an exit, or simply gawking at a strange setting. Depicting this familiar irritation, Dante probes a deeper tragedy, something more problematic than being in the wrong locale. Dante is on the wrong path of life. Abandoning the true way, he has abandoned the road to happiness.

The ‘savage forest’ describes Dante’s disordered soul. The gnarly branches are his own vices chafing in the wind of vain pursuits. Pride, vanity, envy, wrath, gluttony, sloth, and lust compete for their own desired objects: praise, honor, vengeance, pleasure, money, and material possessions. All of these drag him down and pull him off the path to true happiness.

What’s more, Dante perceptively connects slumber with veering off the true way. Following our passions and disordered desires resembles sleeping; we’re not really thinking. Our wounded souls struggle to know the truth, to desire what is truly good, to overcome what is difficult, and to resist that quick fix of pleasure. These wounds invert our humanity in such a way that the lower parts of ourselves influence the higher parts. Reason can become like a distracted ticket agent, admitting any action without a discerning judgment. Put another way, letting the passions rule our lives is like letting a toddler rule the household.

The true path that Dante longs for is anything but the result of slumber. Christ rose from the sleep of death to new life. You might say, “One has to be awake to be saved.” (ed. #WOKE) This salvation is living with vitality, while living according to vice is not living at all.

The vices are usually called the seven deadly sins, which lead to slumberous folly. In contrast, the life of salvation and grace manifests itself in the seven lively virtues. Faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance seek their own desired objects: truth, eternal happiness, the good, the right course of action, equity, self-mastery, and the balanced enjoyment of pleasure. Far from the gray and gloom of the “savage forest,’ the new life of grace and virtue resembles a garden of various flowers and fruits.

At the beginning of his journey, a lost and dull Dante rambles into a gray, shadowy scene. Yet, at the end of his journey, a found and illuminated Dante beholds a vision of variegated color he struggles to express. Beholding God, he writes,

“Here vigor failed the lofty fantasy:

But now was turning my desire and will

Even as a wheel that equally is moved,

The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.”

Passing from vice to virtue, Dante’s journey begins in an enclosed, shadowy forest and ends with the unfathomable vision of God, the source of all light, love, beauty, and reality. Far from a slumberous vision, Dante becomes fully awake and fully alive.”

Love & His joy, only He can provide,
Matthew

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus: No Salvation Outside the Church – Reply to Pastor Bill Keller


-by Dave Armstrong
originally 4/23/08

“Catholics think that Protestants are fully incorporated into the Body of Christ by virtue of baptism.

[Pastor Keller’s words will be in bold, hereafter. I was responding to his article, so he wasn’t “there” personally, to respond]

***

I have rebuked and rejected the extremists who made the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church and that you are not even saved unless you are part of that church.

Every Christian group believes that it has the truest theology, or else it would hardly have a reason for existence. The Catholic claim that there is only one true Church is simply hearkening back to the views of the Church fathers and, indeed, of the Bible itself, that knows nothing of denominations.

There is a lot of misunderstanding, however, about our claim that no one is saved apart from the Catholic Church. We do not believe that every person has to necessarily be a formal member of the Catholic Church to be saved. We think that if a person fully understands what the Catholic Church teaches, and rejects it, then they cannot be saved, but many do not understand our teachings, and we believe that God takes that into consideration.

The Catholic Church thinks that Protestants are fully incorporated into the Body of Christ by virtue of baptism, and that many graces are available within Protestantism, leading possibly even to salvation, if a person is unacquainted with Catholic teachings.

The Bible teaches that the church (ekklesia) is a body of Believers. The true church according to Scriptures is made up of those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and hold the Bible to be God’s inspired, inerrant Word, representing Absolute Truth and our final authority in all matters.

This is not true. The Bible is a supreme authority, yes, but it has to be interpreted in line with the Church. That is seen in many biblical examples; most notably the Jerusalem Council, recorded in Acts 15. The Church also includes sinners in its ranks, and has visible elements by which it can be identified.

It was nearly 400 years AD before what we know of today as the Roman Catholic Church emerged.

Hardly. We see clear signs of Catholic doctrines such as the Real presence in the Eucharist, bishops, a centralized hierarchy centered in Rome, baptismal regeneration, the communion of saints, Mariology, and so forth, from a very early period. Doctrines had to develop more fully, sure, but that is true of all Christian doctrines, so that the Trinity was more fully developed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (the doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ).

What makes a true Christian church is faith in Jesus Christ and adherence to the Bible as God’s Word.

And what does that Bible teach? That is the question. What does one do when two or more of these churches disagree with each other on doctrine? The NT knows nothing of doctrinal relativism. There was one truth, period. So the trick is to determine where that lies. The Church Fathers always appealed to history and apostolic succession tracing back the true Catholic doctrine and opposing those who could not trace their doctrines back to the apostles: like the Arians (precursors of today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny that Jesus is God). The Arians appealed to Bible alone because they couldn’t follow their heresy back to the beginning. It began in the 4th century.

So for Pope Benedict to state that all non-Roman Catholic churches are not true churches is a lie and not what the Bible teaches.

All we are doing is saying that the Bible teaches that there is but one “Church” and that we claim to be that Church. If someone wishes to argue that denominationalism and more than one Church can be found in the Bible, then let them make that argument. I contend that it cannot be done. Nor can a solely invisible Church be found in the Bible. The first thing to determine, then, is the nature of the Church. Then one has to figure out if this entity “The Church” exists and how to identify it.

Most troubling, however, is the Pope’s claim that salvation is only achieved through the Roman Catholic Church. I hate to give the Pope a Theology 101 lesson, but there is only one way to be saved and that is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Period!

We agree with Protestants that salvation comes through Christ alone through grace alone. God uses the Church and human instruments to convey that salvation to men. The two are not mutually exclusive.

NO CHURCH CAN SAVE YOU!

We do not claim that the Catholic Church is the ultimate cause or origin of salvation. That is God alone. We are saying that God uses His own Church: that He set up by His own will, as His instrument in salvation, because human beings are not isolated individuals, with no connection to each other.

This notion that being part of a church can save you is not only anti-Biblical, it is pure blasphemy! In essence, what Pope Benedict is saying is that anyone outside of the Roman Catholic Church is not saved! That is not what the Bible teaches and is the type of statement I would expect out of a cult leader, not the head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics!

Nor is it what we teach. It is the Calvinist view that consigns people to hell solely because of an accident of birth, or never having heard the gospel message of Jesus Christ. We say only that whoever is saved is so in part because of the aid of the Catholic Church, whether they are aware of it or not, not that they will be damned if they are not formally a member of the Catholic Church.

It appears now that the Pope doesn’t even know how to be saved and I wonder if he is trusting Jesus by faith or his church for his own salvation?

No Catholic trusts the “Church” for his or her salvation. We simply believe that there is such a thing as a visible, historical Church, with apostolic succession, that has authority, and which can bind its members to believe certain things, and require them to reject heretical, false doctrines, and that this is clearly taught in the Bible.

I find it very troubling that the Pope would seek to placate those who are following the false religion of Islam to the depths of hell, yet has no problem telling Bible-believing Christians who have put their faith in Jesus Christ that unless they are part of the Roman Catholic Church they are not saved!

Ecumenism, apologetics and evangelism are all distinct and important tasks, but they are not mutually exclusive. We live in a world with others who do not believe as we do. This conflict causes wars and much misery. So, while not watering down our own beliefs, it is good and worthwhile to build bridges with others insofar as we can do so without forsaking our own beliefs and principles. The pope, as a hugely important world figure, does all these things.

The very reaction of Catholic critics proves this, because we get misery no matter what we do. If we claim there is one Church through which we can be saved, we’re accused of being narrow and dogmatic. But if we are ecumenical and reach out to Muslims as much as we can, then we are accused of forsaking the same gospel that we assert in connection with the one true Church and One True Doctrine. We can’t win for losing. In effect, unless we are Protestants, we’ll always be roundly condemned.

Nothing is more divisive than the unbiblical doctrine of denominationalism. True unity will only come through doctrinal unity, not a touchy-feely, “least common denominator” brand of low-church Protestantism. That has never brought about an end of division; only a weakening of orthodox Christian doctrine.

No Protestant denomination can be traced in historical continuity all the way back to the apostles. The Methodists derived from the Anglicans, who derived from the lustfulness of Henry VIII and his desire to break off of the Catholic Church for the reason of wanting to divorce his wife. Hardly a biblical origin . . . The Assemblies of God are only a little more than a century old, derived from the holiness movement of the 19th century, that was an offshoot of Methodism. The Baptists began with the Anabaptists in the 16th century. The Catholic Church began with Jesus commissioning Peter as the first pope in Matthew 16, and the infallible Church Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

There is no comparison. No Protestant denomination can demonstrate that it is in line with the consensus of the Fathers and the Bible. Eastern Orthodox is the only viable alternative to Catholicism, and we consider the Orthodox very close to us, and indeed, a “sister” Church.

The critical point is that while each group of churches or denominations have their own unique differences in regard to different doctrinal issues, what makes them Christian churches are the foundational element of the Christian faith.

The Bible nowhere sanctions doctrinal contradictions. There is “one Lord, one baptism, one faith” (-Eph 4:5).”

Love,
Matthew

The Heresy of Arianism – “The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian.”


-Emporer Constantine burning Arian books, illustration from a compendium of canon law, c. 825. Drawing on vellum. From MS CLXV, Biblioteca Capitolare, Vercelli, a compendium of canon law produced in northern Italy ca. 825.

“The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian.” – St Jerome

-by Hillaire Belloc, Chapter 3, The Great Heresies

“Arianism was the first of the great heresies.

There had been from the foundation of the Church at Pentecost A.D. 29[1] to 33 a mass of heretical movements filling the first three centuries. They had turned, nearly all of them, upon the nature of Christ.

The effect of our Lord’s predication, and Personality, and miracles, but most of all His resurrection, had been to move every one who had any faith at all in the wonder presented, to a conception of divine power running through the whole affair.

Now the central tradition of the Church here, as in every other case of disputed doctrine, was strong and clear from the beginning. Our Lord was undoubtedly a man. He had been born as men are born, He died as men die. He lived as a man and had been known as a man by a group of close companions and a very large number of men and women who had followed Him, and heard Him and witnessed His actions.

But_said the Church_He was also God. God had come down to earth and become Incarnate as a Man. He was not merely a man influenced by the Divinity, nor was He a manifestation of the Divinity under the appearance of a man. He was at the same time fully God and fully Man. On that the central tradition of the Church never wavered. It is taken for granted from the beginning by those who have authority to speak.

But a mystery is necessarily, because it is a mystery, incomprehensible; therefore man, being a reasonable being, is perpetually attempting to rationalize it. So it was with this mystery. One set would say Christ was only a man, though a man endowed with special powers.  Another set, at the opposite extreme, would say He was a manifestation of  the Divine. His human nature was a thing of illusion. They played the changes between those two extremes indefinitely.

Well, the Arian heresy was, as it were, the summing up and conclusion of all these movements on the unorthodox side_that is, of all those movements which did not accept the full mystery of two natures.

Since it is very difficult to rationalize the union of the Infinite with the finite, since there is an apparent contradiction between the two terms, this final form into which the confusion of heresies settled down was a declaration that our Lord was as much of the Divine Essence as it was possible for a creature to be, but that He was none the less a creature. He was not the Infinite and Omnipotent God who must be of His nature one and indivisible, and could not (so they said) be at the same time a limited human moving and having his being in the temporal sphere.

Arianism (I will later describe the origin of the name) was willing to grant our Lord every kind of honour and majesty short of the full nature of the Godhead. He was created (or, if people did not like the word “created” then “he came forth”) from the Godhead before all other effects thereof. Through Him the world was created. He was granted one might (say paradoxically) all the divine attributes_except divinity.

Essentially this movement sprang from exactly the same source as any other rationalistic movement from the beginning to our own time. It sprang from the desire to visualize clearly and simply something which is beyond the grasp of human vision and comprehension. Therefore, although it began by giving to our Lord every possible honor and glory short of the actual Godhead, it would inevitably have led in the long run into mere unitarianism and the treating of our Lord at last as a prophet and, however exalted, no more than a prophet.

As all heresies necessarily breathe the air of the time in which they arise, and are necessarily a reflection of the philosophy of whatever non-Catholic ideas are prevalent at that moment they arise, Arianism spoke in the terms of its day. It did not begin as a similar movement would begin today by making our Lord a mere man and nothing else. Still less did it deny the supernatural as a whole. The time in which it arose (the years round about A.D. 300) was a time in which all society took the supernatural for granted. But it spoke of our Lord as a Supreme Agent of God_a Demiurge_and regarded him as the first and greatest of those emanations of the Central Godhead through which emanations the fashionable philosophy of the day got over the difficulty of reconciling the Infinite and simple Creator with a complex and finite universe.

So much for the doctrine and for what its rationalistic tendencies would have ended in had it conquered. It would have rendered the new religion something like Mohammedanism or perhaps, seeing the nature of Greek and Roman society, something like an Oriental Calvinism.

At any rate, what I have just set down was the state of this doctrine so long as it flourished: a denial of Our Lord’s full Godhead combined with an admission of all His other attributes.

Now when we are talking of the older dead heresies we have to consider the spiritual and therefore social effects of them much more than their mere doctrinal error, although that doctrinal error was the ultimate cause of all their spiritual and social effects. We have to do this because, when a heresy has been long dead, its savour is forgotten. The particular tone and unmistakable impress which it stamped upon society being no longer experienced is non-existent for us, and it had to be resurrected, as it were, by anyone who wants to talk true history. It would be impossible, short of an explanation of this kind, to make a Catholic from Bearn today, a peasant from the neighborhood of Lourdes where Calvinism, once prevalent there, is now dead, understand the savor and individual character of Calvinism as it still survives in Scotland and in sections of the United States. But we must try to realize this now forgotten Arian atmosphere, because, until we understand its spiritual and therefore social savor, we cannot be said to know it really at all.

Further, one must understand this savour or intimate personal character of the movement, and its individual effect on society, in order to understand its importance. There is no greater error in the whole range of bad history than imagining that doctrinal differences, because they are abstract and apparently remote from the practical things of life, are not therefore of intense social effect. Describe to a Chinaman today the doctrinal quarrel of the Reformation, tell him that it was above all a denial of the doctrine of the visible church, and a denial of the special authority of its officers. That would be true. He would so far understand what happened at this Reformation as he might understand a mathematical statement. But would that make him understand the French Huguenots of today, the Prussian manner in war and politics, the nature of England and her past since Puritanism arose in this country? Would it make him understand the Orange Lodges or the moral and political systems of, say, Mr. H. G. Wells or Mr. Bernard Shaw? Of course it would not! To give a man the history of tobacco, to give him the chemical formula (if there be such a thing) for nicotine, is not to make him understand what is meant by the smell of tobacco and the effects of smoking it. So it is with Arianism. Merely to say that Arianism was what it was doctrinally is to enunciate a formula, but not to give the thing itself.

When Arianism arose it came upon a society which was already, and had long been, the one Universal Polity of which all civilized men were citizens. There were no separate nations. The Roman empire was one state from the Euphrates to the Atlantic and from the Sahara to the Scottish Highlands. It was ruled in monarchic fashion by the Commander-in-Chief, or Commanders-in-Chief, of the armies. The title for the Commander-in-Chief was “Imperator” whence we get our word Emperor and therefore we talk of that State as the “Roman Empire.” What the emperor or associated emperors (there had been two of them according to the latest scheme, each with a coadjutor, making four, but these soon coalesced into one supreme head and unique emperor) declared themselves to be, that was the attitude of the empire officially as a whole.

The emperors and therefore the whole official scheme dependent on them had been anti-Christian during the growth of the Catholic Church in the midst of Roman and Greek pagan society. For nearly 300 years they and the official scheme of that society had regarded the increasingly powerful Catholic Church as an alien and very dangerous menace to the traditions and therefore to the strength of the old Greek and Roman pagan world. The Church was, as it were, a state within a state, possessing her own supreme officials, the bishops, and her own organization, which was of a highly developed and powerful kind. She was ubiquitous. She stood in strong contrast with the old world into which she had thrust herself. What would
be the life of the one would be the death of the other. The old world defended itself through the action of the last pagan emperors. They launched many persecutions against the Church, ending in one final and very drastic persecution which failed.

The Catholic cause was at first supported by, and at last openly joined by, a man who conquered all other rivals and established himself as supreme monarch over the whole State: the Emperor Constantine the Great ruling from Constantinople, the city which he had founded and called “New Rome.” After this the central office of the Empire was Christian. By the critical date A.D. 325, not quite three centuries after Pentecost, the Catholic Church had become the official, or at any rate the Palace, Religion of the Empire, and so remained (with one very brief exceptional interval) as long as the empire stood.[2]

But it must not be imagined that the majority of men as yet adhered to the Christian religion, even in the Greek speaking East. They certainly were not of that religion by anything like a majority in the Latin speaking West.

As in all great changes throughout history the parties at issue were minorities inspired with different degrees of enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm. These minorities had various motives and were struggling each to impose its mental attitude upon the wavering and undecided mass. Of these minorities the Christians were the largest and (what was more important) the most eager, the most convinced, and the only fully and strictly organized.

The conversion of the Emperor brought over to them large and increasing numbers of the undecided majority. These, perhaps, for the greater part hardly understood the new thing to which they were rallying, and certainly for the most part were not attached to it. But it had finally won politically and that was enough for them. Many regretted the old gods, but thought it not worth while to risk anything in their defense. Very many more cared nothing for what was left of the old gods and not much more for the new Christian fashions.

Meanwhile there was a strong minority remaining of highly intelligent and determined pagans. They had on their side not only the traditions of a wealthy governing class but they had also the great bulk of the best writers and, of course, they also had to strengthen them the recent memories of their long dominance over society.

There was yet another element of that world, separate from all the rest, and one which it is extremely important for us to understand: the Army. Why it is so important for us to understand the position of the Army will be described in a moment.

When the power of Arianism was manifested in those first years of the official Christian Empire and its universal government throughout the Graeco-Roman world, Arianism became the nucleus or centre of many forces which would be, of themselves, indifferent to its doctrine. It became the rallying point for many strongly surviving traditions from the older world: traditions not religious, but intellectual, social, moral, literary and all the rest of it.

We might put it vividly enough in modern slang by saying that Arianism, thus vigorously present in the new great discussions within the body of the Christian Church when first that Church achieved official support and became the official religion of the Empire, attracted all the “high-brows,” at least half the snobs and nearly all the sincere idealistic tories_the “die-hards”_whether nominally Christian or not. It attracted, as we know, great numbers of those who <were> definitely Christian. But it was also the rallying point of these non-Christian forces which were of such great importance in the society of the day.

A great number of the old noble families were reluctant to accept the social revolution implied by the triumph of the Christian Church. They naturally sided with a movement which they instinctively felt to be spiritually opposed to the life and survival of that Church and which carried with it an atmosphere of social superiority over the populace. The Church relied upon and was supported at the end by the masses. Men of old family tradition and wealth found the Arian more sympathetic than the ordinary Catholic and a better ally for gentlemen.

Many intellectuals were in the same position. These had not pride of family and old social traditions from the past, but they had pride of culture. They remembered with regret the former prestige of the pagan philosophers. They thought that this great revolution from paganism to Catholicism would destroy the old cultural traditions and their own cultural position.

The mere snobs, who are always a vast body in any society_that is, the people who have no opinions of their own but who follow what they believe to be the honorific thing of the moment_would be divided. Perhaps the majority of them would follow the official court movement and attach themselves openly to the new religion. But there would always be a certain number who would think it more “chic,” more “the thing” to profess sympathy with the old pagan traditions, the great old pagan families, the long inherited and venerable pagan culture and literature and all the rest of it. All these reinforced the Arian movement because it was destructive of Catholicism.

Arianism had yet another ally and the nature of that alliance is so subtle that it requires very careful examination. It had for ally the tendency of government in an absolute monarchy to be half afraid of emotions present in the minds of the people and especially in the poorer people: emotions which if they spread and became enthusiastic and captured the mass of the people might become too strong to be ruled and would have to be bowed to. There is here a difficult paradox but one important to be recognized.

Absolute government, especially in the hands of one man, would seem, on the surface, to be opposed to popular government. The two sound contradictory to those who have not seen absolute monarchy at work. To those who have, it is just the other way. Absolute government is the support of the masses against the power of wealth in the hands of a few, or the power of armies in the hands of a few. Therefore one might imagine that the imperial power of Constantinople would have had sympathy with the popular Catholic masses rather than with the intellectuals and the rest who followed Arianism. But we must remember that while absolute government has for its very cause of existence the defence of the masses against the
powerful few, yet it likes to rule. It does not like to feel that there is in the State a rival to its own power. It does not like to feel that great decisions may be imposed by organizations other than its own official organization. That is why even the most Christian emperors and their officials always had at the back of their minds, during the first lifetime of the Arian movement, a potential sympathy with Arianism, and that is why this potential sympathy in some cases appears as actual sympathy and as a public declaration of Arianism on their part.

There was yet one more ally to Arianism through which it almost triumphed the Army.

In order to understand how powerful such an ally was we must appreciate what the Roman Army meant in those days and of what it was composed.

The Army was, of course, in mere numbers, only a fraction of society. We are not certain what those numbers were; at the most they may have come to half a million_they were probably a good deal less. But to judge by numbers in the matter would be ridiculous. The Army was normally half, or more than half, the State. The Army was the true cement, to use one metaphor, the framework to use another metaphor, the binding force and the support and the very material self of the Roman Empire in that fourth century; it had been so for centuries before and was to remain so for further generations.

It is absolutely essential to understand this point, for it explains three-fourths of what happened, not only in the case of the Arian heresy but of everything else between the days of Marius (under whose administration the Roman Army first became professional), and the Mohammedan attack upon Europe, that is, from more than a century before the Christian era to the early seventh century. The social and political position of the Army explains all those seven hundred years and more.

The Roman Empire was a military state. It was not a civilian state. Promotion to power was through the Army. The conception of glory and success, the attainment of wealth in many cases, in nearly all cases the attainment of political power, depended on the Army in those days, just as it depends upon money-lending, speculation, caucuses, manipulation of votes, bosses and newspapers nowadays.

The Army had originally consisted of Roman citizens, all of whom were Italians. Then as the power of the Roman State spread it took in auxiliary troops, people following local chieftains, and affiliated to the Roman military system and even recruited its regular ranks from up and down the Empire in every province. There were many Gauls that is Frenchmen in the Army, many Spaniards, and so forth, before the first one hundred years of the Empire had run out. In the next two hundred years that is, in the two hundred years A.D. 100-300, leading up to the Arian heresy_the Army had become more and more recruited from what we call “Barbarians,” a term which meant not savages but people outside the strict limits of the Roman Empire. They were easier to discipline, they were much cheaper to hire than citizens were. They were also less used to the arts and comforts of civilization than the citizens within the frontiers. Great numbers of them were German, but there were many Slavs and a good many Moors and Arabs and Saracens and not a few Mongols even, drifting in from the East.

This great body of the Roman Army was strictly bound together by its discipline, but still more by its professional pride. It was a long service army. A man belonged to it from his adolescence to his middle age. No one else except the Army had any physical power. There could be no question of resisting it by force, and it was in a sense the government. Its commander-in-chief was the absolute monarch of the whole state. Now the army went solidly Arian.

That is the capital mark of the whole affair. But for the Army, Arianism would never have meant what it did. With the Army_and the Army wholeheartedly on its side_Arianism all but triumphed and managed to survive even when it represented a little more than the troops and their chief officers.

It was true that a certain number of German troops from outside the Empire had been converted by Arian missionaries at a moment when high society was Arian. But that was not the main reason that the Army as a whole went Arian. The Army went Arian because it felt Arianism to be the distinctive thing which made it superior to the civilian masses, just as Arianism was a distinctive thing which made the intellectual feel superior to the popular masses. The soldiers, whether of barbaric or civilian recruitment, felt sympathy with Arianism for the same reason that the old pagan families felt sympathy with Arianism. The army then, and especially the Army chiefs, backed the new heresy for all they were worth, and it became a sort of test of whether you were somebody_a soldier as against the despised civilians_or no. One might say that there had arisen a feud between the Army chiefs on the one hand and the Catholic bishops on the other. Certainly there was a division_an official severence between the Catholic populace in towns, the Catholic peasantry in the country and the almost universally Arian soldier; and the enormous effect of this junction between the new heresy and the Army we shall see at work in all that follows.

Now that we have seen what the spirit of Arianism was and what forces were in its favor, let us see how it got its name.

The movement for denying the full Godhead of Christ and making Him a creature took its title from one Areios (in the Latin form Arius), a Greek-speaking African cleric rather older than Constantine, and already famous as a religious force some years before Constantine’s victories and first imperial power.

Remember that Arius was only a climax to a long movement. What was the cause of his success? Two things combined. First, the momentum of all that came before him. Second, the sudden release of the Church by Constantine. To this should be added undoubtedly something in Arius’ own personality. Men of this kind who become leaders do so because they have some personal momentum from their own past impelling them. They would not so become unless there were something in themselves.

I think we may take it that Arius had the effect he had through a convergence of forces. There was a great deal of ambition in him, such as you will find in all heresiarchs. There was a strong element of rationalism. There was also in him enthusiasm for what he believed to be the truth.

His theory was certainly not his own original discovery, but he made it his own; he identified it with his name. Further, he was moved to a dogged resistance against people whom he thought to be persecuting him. He suffered from much vanity, as do nearly all reformers. On the top of all this a rather thin simplicity, “commonsense,” which at once appeals to multitudes. But he would never have had his success but for something eloquent about him and a driving power.

He was already a man of position, probably from the Cyrenaica (now an Italian colony in North Africa, east of Tripoli), though he was talked of as being Alexandrian, because it was in Alexandria that he lived. He had been a disciple of the greatest critic of his time, the martyr Lucian of Antioch. In the year 318 he was presiding over the Church of Bucalis in Alexandria, and enjoyed the high favor of the Bishop of the City, Alexander.

Arius went over from Egypt to Caesarea in Palestine, spreading his already well-known set of rationalizing, Unitarian ideas with zeal. Some of the eastern Bishops began to agree with him. It is true that the two main Syrian Bishoprics, Antioch and Jerusalem, stood out; but apparently most of the Syrian hierarchy inclined to listen to Arius.

When Constantine became the master of the whole Empire in 325, Arius appealed to the new master of the world. The great Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander, had excommunicated him, but reluctantly. The old heathen Emperor Licinius had protected the new movement.

A battle of vast importance was joined. Men did not know of what importance it was, violently though their emotions were excited. Had this movement for rejecting the full divinity of Our Lord gained the victory, all our civilization would have been other than what it has been from that day to this. We all know what happens when an attempt to simplify and rationalize the mysteries of the Faith succeeds in any society. We have before us now the ending experiment of the Reformation, and the aged but still very vigorous Mohammedan heresy, which may perhaps appear with renewed vigor in the future. Such rationalistic efforts against the creed produce a gradual social degradation following on the loss of that direct link between human nature and God which is provided by the Incarnation. Human dignity is lessened. The authority of Our Lord is weakened. He appears more and more as a man_perhaps a myth. The substance of Christian life is diluted. It wanes. What began as Unitarianism ends as Paganism.

To settle the quarrel by which all Christian society was divided, a council was ordered by the Emperor to meet, in A.D. 325, at the town of Nicaea, fifty miles from the capital, on the Asiatic side of the Straits. The Bishops were summoned to convene there from the whole Empire, even from districts outside the Empire where Christian missionaries had planted the Faith. The great bulk of those who came were from the Eastern Empire, but the West was represented, and, what was of the first importance, delegates arrived from the Primatial See of Rome; but for their adherence the decrees of the Council would not have held. As it was their presence gave full validity to these Decrees. The reaction against the innovation of Arius was so strong that at this Council of Nicaea he was overwhelmed.

In that first great defeat, when the strong vital tradition of Catholicism had asserted itself and Arius was condemned, the creed which his followers had drawn up was trampled under-foot as a blasphemy, but thespirit behind that creed and behind that revolt was to re-arise.

It re-arose at once, and it can be said that Arianism was actually strengthened by its first superficial defeat. This paradox was due to a cause you will find at work in many forms of conflict. The defeated adversary learns from his first rebuff the character of the thing he has attacked; he discovers its weak points; he learns how his opponent may be confused and into what compromises that opponent may be led. He is therefore better prepared after his check than he was at the first onslaught. So it was with Arianism.

In order to understand the situation we must appreciate the point that Arianism, founded like all heresies on an error in doctrine_that is on something which can be expressed in a dead formula of mere words soon began to live, like all heresies at their beginning, with a vigorous new life and character and savor of its own. The quarrel which filled the third century from 325 onwards for a lifetime was not after its first years a quarrel between opposing forms of words the difference between which may appear slight; it became very early in the struggle a quarrel between opposing spirits and characters: a quarrel between two opposing personalities, such as human personalities are: on the one side the Catholic temper and tradition, on the other a soured, proud temper, which would have destroyed the Faith.

Arianism learned from its first heavy defeat at Nicaea to compromise on forms, on the wording of doctrine, so that it might preserve, and spread with less opposition, its heretical spirit. The first conflict had turned on the use of a Greek word which means “of the same substance with.” The Catholics, affirming the full Godhead of Our Lord, insisted on the use of this word, which implied that the Son was of the same Divine substance as the Father; that He was of the same Being: i.e., Godship. It was thought sufficient to present this word as a test. The Arians_it was thought_would always refuse to accept the word and could thus be distinguished from the Orthodox and rejected.

But many Arians were prepared to compromise by accepting the mere word and denying the spirit in which it should be read. They were willing to admit that Christ was of the Divine essence, but not fully God; not uncreated. When the Arians began this new policy of verbal compromise, the

Emperor Constantine and his successors regarded that policy as an honest opportunity for reconciliation and reunion. The refusal of the Catholics to be deceived became, in the eyes of those who thought thus, mere obstinacy; and in the eyes of the Emperor, factious rebellion and inexcusable disobedience. “Here are you people, who call yourself the only real Catholics, prolonging and needlessly embittering a mere faction-fight. Because you have the popular names behind you, you feel yourselves the masters of your fellows. Such arrogance is intolerable.

“The other side have accepted your main point; why cannot you now settle the quarrel and come together again? By holding out you split society into two camps; you disturb the peace of the Empire, and are as criminal as you are fanatical.”

That is what the official world tended to put forward and honestly believed.

The Catholics answered: “The heretics have not accepted our main point. They have subscribed to an Orthodox phrase, but they interpret that phrase in an heretical fashion. They will repeat that Our Lord is of Divine nature, but not that he is fully God, for they still say He was created. Therefore we will not allow them to enter our communion. To do so would be to endanger the vital principle by which the Church exists, the principle of the Incarnation, and the Church is essential to the Empire and Mankind.”

At this point, there entered the battle that personal force which ultimately won the victory for Catholicism: St. Athanasius. It was the tenacity and single aim of St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, the great Metropolitan See of Egypt, which decided the issue. He enjoyed a position of advantage, for Alexandria was the second most important town in the Eastern Empire and, as a Bishopric, one of the first four in the world. He further enjoyed popular backing, which never failed him, and which made his enemies hesitate to take extreme measures against him. But all this would not have sufficed had not the man himself been what he was.

At the time when he sat at the Council of Nicaea in 325 he was still a young man_probably not quite thirty; and he only sat there as Deacon, although already his strength and eloquence were remarkable. He lived to be seventy-six or seventy-seven years of age, dying in A.D. 373, and during nearly the whole of that long life he maintained with inflexible energy the full Catholic doctrine of the Trinity.

When the first compromise of Arianism was suggested, Athanasius was already Archbishop of Alexandria. Constantine ordered him to re-admit Arius to Communion. He refused.

It was a step most perilous because all men admitted the full power of the Monarch over Life and Death, and regarded rebellion as the worst of crimes. Athanasius was also felt to be outrageous and extravagant, because opinion in the official world, among men of social influence, and throughout the Army, upon which everything then reposed, was strong that the compromise ought to be accepted. Athanasius was exiled to Gaul, but Athanasius in exile was even more formidable than Athanasius at Alexandria. His presence in the West had the effect of reinforcing the strong Catholic feeling of all that part of the Empire.

He was recalled. The sons of Constantine, who succeeded one after the other to the Empire, vacillated between the policy of securing popular support which was Catholic_and of securing the support of the Army which was Arian. Most of all did the Court lean towards Arianism because it disliked the growing power of the organized Catholic Clergy, rival to the lay power of the State. The last and longest lived of Constantine’s sons and successors, Constantius, became very definitely Arian. Athanasius was exiled over and over again but the Cause of which he was champion was growing in strength.

When Constantius died in 361, he was succeeded by a nephew of Constantine’s, Julian the Apostate. This Emperor went over to the large surviving Pagan body and came near to reestablishing Paganism; for the power of an individual Emperor was in that day overwhelming. But he was killed in battle against the Persians and his successor, Jovian, was definitely Catholic.

However, the see-saw still went on. In 367, St. Athanasius, being then an old man of at least seventy years of age, the Emperor Valens exiled him for the fifth time. Finding that the Catholic forces were now too strong he later recalled him. By this time Athanasius had won his battle. He died as the greatest man of the Roman world. Of such value are sincerity and tenacity, combined with genius.

But the Army remained Arian, and what we have to follow in the next generations is the lingering death of Arianism in the Latin-speaking Western part of the Empire; lingering because it was supported by the Chief Generals in command of the Western districts, but doomed because the people as a whole had abandoned it. How it thus died out I shall now describe.

It is often said that all heresies die. This may be true in the very long run but it is not necessarily true within any given period of time. It is not even true that the vital principle of a heresy necessarily loses strength with time. The fate of the various heresies has been most various; and the greatest of them, Mohammedanism, is not only still vigorous but is more vigorous over the districts which it originally occupied than is its Christian rival, and much more vigorous and much more co-extensive with its own society than is the Catholic Church with our Western civilization which is the product of Catholicism.

Arianism, however, was one of those heresies which did die. The same fate has overtaken Calvinism in our own day. This does not mean that the general moral effect or atmosphere of the heresy disappears from among men, but that its creative doctrines are no longer believed in, so that its vitality is lost and must ultimately disappear.

Geneva today, for instance, is morally a Calvinist city, although it has a Catholic minority sometimes very nearly equal to half its total numbers, sometimes actually becoming (I believe) a slight majority. But there is not one man of a hundred in Geneva today who accepts Calvin’s highly defined theology. The doctrine is dead; its effects on society
survive.

Arianism died in two fashions, corresponding to the two halves into which the Roman Empire_which was in those days, for its citizens, the whole civilized world fell.

The Eastern half had Greek for its official language and it was governed from Constantinople, which was also called Byzantium.

It included Egypt, North Africa, as far as Cyrene, the East Coast of the Adriatic, the Balkans, Asia Minor, Syria as far (roughly) as the Euphrates. It was in this part of the Empire that Arianism had sprung up and proved so powerful that between A.D. 300 and A.D. 400 it very nearly conquered.

The Imperial Court had wavered between Arianism and Catholicism with one momentary lapse back into paganism. But before the century was over, that is well before the year A.D. 400, the Court was definitely Catholic and seemed certain to remain so. As I explained above, although the Emperor and his surrounding officials (which I have called “the Court”) were theoretically all powerful (for the constitution was an absolute monarchy and men could not think in any other terms in those days), yet, at least as powerful, and less subject to change, was the army on which the whole of that society reposed. And the army meant the generals; the generals of the army were for the most part, and permanently, Arian.

When the central power, the Emperor and his officials, had becomevpermanently Catholic the spirit of the military was still in the mainvArian, and that is why the underlying ideas of Arianism that is, the doubt whether Our Lord was or could be really Godvsurvived after formal Arianism had ceased to be preached and accepted among the populace.

On this account, because the spirit which had underlain Arianism (the doubt on the full divinity of Christ) went on, there arose a number of what may be called “derivatives” from Arianism; or “secondary forms” of Arianism.

Men continued to suggest that there was only one nature in Christ, the end of which suggestion would necessarily have been a popular idea that Christ was only a man. When that failed to capture the official machine, though it continued to affect millions of people, there was another suggestion made that there was only one Will in Christ, not a human will and a divine will, but a single will.

Before these there had been a revival of the old idea, previous to Arianism and upheld by early heretics in Syria, that the divinity only came into Our Lord during His lifetime. He was born no more than a man, and Our Lady was the mother of no more than a man_and so on. In all their various forms and under all their technical names (Monophysites, Monothelites, Nestorians, the names of the principal three_and there were any number of others) these movements throughout the Eastern or Greek half of the Empire were efforts at escaping from, or rationalizing, the full mystery of the Incarnation; and their survival depended on the jealousy felt by the army for the civilian society round it, and on the lingering remains of pagan hostility to the Christian mysteries as a whole. Of course they depended also on the eternal human tendency to rationalize and to reject what is beyond the reach of reason.

But there was another factor in the survival of the secondary effects of Arianism in the East. It was the factor which is called today in European politics “Particularism,” that is, the tendency of a part of the state to separate itself from the rest and to live its own life. When this feeling becomes so strong that men are willing to suffer and die for it, it takes the form of a Nationalist revolution. An example of such was the feeling of the southern Slavs against the Austrian Empire which feeling gave rise to the Great War. Now this discontent of provinces and districts with the Central Power by which they had been governed increased as time went on in the Eastern Empire; and a convenient way of expressing it was to favor any kind of criticism against the official religion of the Empire. That is why great bodies in the East (and notably a large proportion of the people in the Egyptian province) favored the Monophysite heresy. It expressed their dissatisfaction with the despotic rule of Constantinople and with the taxes imposed upon them and with the promotion given to those near the court at the expense of the provincials and all the rest of their grievances.

Thus the various derivatives from Arianism survived in the Greek Eastern half of the Empire, although the official world had long gone back to Catholicism. This also explains why you find all over the East today large numbers of schismatic Christians, mainly Monophysite, sometimes Nestorian, sometimes of lesser communities, whom not all these centuries of Mohammedan oppression have been able to unite with the main Christian body.

What put an end, not to these sects, for they still exist, but to their importance, was the sudden rise of that enormous force, antagonistic to the whole Greek world_Islam: the new Mohammedan heresy out of the desert, which rapidly became a counter-religion; the implacable enemy of all the older Christian bodies. The death of Arianism in the East was the swamping of the mass of the Christian Eastern Empire by Arabian conquerors. In the face of that disaster the Christians who remained independent reacted towards orthodoxy as their one chance for survival, and that is how even the secondary effects of Arianism died out in the countries free from subjugation to the Mohammedans in the East.

In the West the fortunes of Arianism are quite different. In the West Arianism died altogether. It ceased to be. It left no derivatives tocarry on a lingering life.

The story of this death of Arianism in the West is commonly misunderstood because most of our history has been written hitherto on a misconception of what European Christian society was like in Western Europe during the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries, that is, between the time when Constantine left Rome and set up the new capital of the Empire, Byzantium, and the date when, in the early seventh century (from A.D. 633 onwards), the Mohammedan invasion burst upon the world.

What we are commonly told is that the Western Empire was overrun by savage tribes called “Goths” and “Visigoths” and “Vandals” and “Suevi” and “Franks” who “conquered” the Western Roman Empire that is, Britain and Gaul and the civilized part of Germany on the Rhine and the upper Danube, Italy, North Africa, and Spain.

The official language of all this part was the Latin language. The Mass was said in Latin, whereas in most of the Eastern Empire it was said in Greek. The laws were in Latin, and all the acts of administration were in Latin. There was no barbarian conquest, but there was a continuation of what had been going on for centuries, an infiltration of people from outside the Empire into the Empire because within the Empire they could get the advantages of civilization. There was also the fact that the army on which everything depended was at last almost entirely recruited from barbarians. As society gradually got old and it was found difficult to administer distant places, to gather the taxes from far away into the central treasury, or to impose an edict over remote regions, the government of those regions tended to be taken over more and more by the leading officers of the barbarian tribes, who were now Roman soldiers; that is, their chieftains and leaders.

In this way were formed local governments in France and Spain and even Italy itself which, while they still felt themselves to be a part of the Empire, were practically independent.

For instance, when it became difficult to govern Italy from so far off as Constantinople, the Emperor sent a general to govern in his place and when this general became too strong he sent another general to supersede him. This second general (Theodoric) was also, like all the others, a barbarian chief by birth, though he was the son of one who had been taken into the Roman service and had himself been brought up at the Court of the Emperor.

This second general became in his turn practically independent.

The same thing happened in southern France and in Spain. The local generals took over power. They were barbarian chiefs who handed over this power, that is, the nominating to official posts and the collecting of taxes, to their descendants.

Then there was the case of North Africa_what we call today Morocco, Algiers and Tunis. Here the quarrelling factions, all of which were disconnected with direct government from Byzantium, called in a group of Slav soldiers who had migrated into the Roman Empire and had been taken over as a military force. They were called the Vandals; and they took over the government of the province which worked from Carthage.

Now all these local governments of the West (the Frankish general and his group of soldiers in northern France, the Visi-gothic one in southern France and Spain, the Burgundian one in southeastern France, the other Gothic one in Italy, the Vandal one in North Africa) were at issue with the official government of the Empire on the point of religion. The Frankish one in north-eastern France and what we call today, Belgium, was still pagan. All the others were Arian.

I have explained above what this meant. It was not so much a doctrinal feeling as a social one. The Gothic general and the Vandal general who were chiefs over their own soldiers felt it was grander to be Arians than to be Catholics like the mass of the populace. They were the army; and the army was too grand to accept the general popular religion. It was a feeling very much like that which you may see surviving in Ireland still, in places, and which was universal there until quite lately: a feeling that “ascendency” went properly with anti-Catholicism.

Since there is no stronger force in politics than this force of social superiority, it took a very long time for the little local courts to drop their Arianism. I call them little because, although they collected taxes from very wide areas, it was merely as administrators. The actual numbers were small compared with the mass of the Catholic population.

While the governors and their courts in Italy and Spain and Gaul and Africa still clung with pride to their ancient Arian name and character, two things, one sudden, the other gradual, militated against both their local power and their Arianism.

The first, sudden, thing was the fact that the general of the Franks who had ruled in Belgium conquered with his very small force another local general in northern France_a man who governed a district lying to the west of him. Both armies were absurdly small, each of about 4,000 men; and it is a very good example of what the times were like that the beaten army, after the battle, at once joined the victors. It also shows what times were like that it seemed perfectly natural for a Roman general commanding no more than 4,000 men to begin with, and only 8,000 men after the first success, to take over the administration_taxes, courts of law and all the imperial forms_over a very wide district. He took over the great mass of northern France just as his colleagues, with similar forces, took over official action in Spain and Italy and elsewhere.

Now it so happened that this Frankish general (whose real name we hardly know, because it has come down to us in various distorted forms, but best known as “Clovis”) was a pagan: something exceptional and even scandalous in the military forces of the day when nearly all important people had become Christians.

But this scandal proved a blessing in disguise to the Church, for the man Clovis being a pagan and never having been Arian, it was possible to convert him directly to Catholicism, the popular religion; and when he had accepted Catholicism he at once had behind him the whole force of the millions of citizens and the organized priesthood and Bishoprics of the Church. He was the one popular general; all the others were at issue with their subjects. He found it easy to levy great bodies of armed men because he had popular feeling with them. He took over the government of the Arian generals in the South, easily defeating them, and his levies became the biggest of the military forces in the Western Latin-speaking Empire. He was not strong enough to take over Italy and Spain, still less Africa, but he shifted the centre of gravity away from the decaying Arian tradition of the Roman army now no more than small dwindling groups.

So much for the sudden blow which was struck against Arianism in the West. The gradual process which hastened the decay of Arianism was of a different kind. With every year that passed it was becoming, in the decay of society, more and more difficult to collect taxes, to keep up a revenue, and therefore to repair roads and harbors and public buildings and keep order and do all the rest of public work.

With this financial decay of government and the social disintegration accompanying it the little groups who were nominally the local governments, lost their prestige. In, say, the year 450 it was a fine thing to be an Arian in Paris or Toledo or Carthage or Arles or Toulouse or Ravenna; but 100 years later, by say, 550, the social prestige of Arianism had gone. It paid everybody who wanted to “get on” to be a Catholic; and the dwindling little official Arian groups were despised even when they acted savagely in their disappointment, as they did in Africa. They lost ground.

The consequence was that after a certain delay all the Arian governments in the West either became Catholic (as in the case of Spain) or, as happened in much of Italy and the whole of North Africa, they were taken over again by the direct rule of the Roman Empire from Byzantium.

This last experiment did not continue long. There was another body of barbarian soldiers, still Arian, who came in from the north-eastern provinces and took over the government in northern and central Italy and shortly afterwards the Mohammedan invasion swept over North Africa and ultimately over Spain and even penetrated into Gaul. Direct Roman administration, so far from surviving Western Europe, died out. Its last effective existence in the South was swamped by Islam. But long before this happened Arianism in the West was dead.

This is the fashion in which the first of the great heresies which threatened at one moment to undermine and destroy the whole of Catholic society disappeared. The process had taken almost 300 years and it is interesting to note that so far as doctrines are concerned, about that space of time, or a little more, sufficed to take the substance out of the various main heresies of the Protestant Reformers.

They, too, had almost triumphed in the middle of the sixteenth century, when Calvin, their chief figure, all but upset the French monarchy. They also had wholly lost their vitality by the middle of the nineteenth, 300 years.

ENDNOTES

1. For the discussion on the date of the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Pentecost I must refer my readers to Dr. Arendzen’s clear and learned work, “Men and Manners in the time of Christ” (Sheed and Ward). From the evidence, which has been fully examined, it is clear that the date is not earlier than 29 A.D., and may possibly be a few years later, while the most widely accepted traditional date is 33 A. D.

2. It is not easy to establish the exact point after which the Official Religion of the Roman State, or even of the Empire, is Christian. Constantine’s victory at the Milvian bridge was in the autumn of 312. The Edict of Milan, issued by himself and Licinius, which gave toleration to the practice of the Christian religion throughout the Empire, was issued early in the following year, 313. When Constantine had become the sole Emperor he soon lived as a Catechumen of the Christian Church, yet he remained head of the old Pagan religious organization as Pontifex Maximus. He was not baptized until the eve of his death, in 337. And though he summoned and presided over gatherings of Christian Bishops, they were still but a separate body in a society mainly Pagan. Constantine’s own son and successor had sympathies with the old dying Paganism. The Senate did not change for a lifetime. For active official destruction of the lingering Pagan worship men had to wait till Theodosius at the very end of the century. The whole affair covers one long human life: over eighty years.”

Love & truth,
Matthew