Category Archives: Heresy

Reformation: Myths & Revolution

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There’s a popular version of the Protestant Reformation that goes something like this: By the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church had become thoroughly corrupted. Its doctrines were tainted by superstitions and false “traditions of men”; its leaders were depraved, forsaking the gospel to indulge their worldly greed and lust; and its practices kept Catholics living in ignorance and fear.

Only the heroism of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the story continues, was able to break the Catholic Church’s grip on power and lead the Christian world out of medieval darkness into the light of true biblical faith.

Chances are you’ve heard this story before. But it’s just a big myth, says historian Steve Weidenkopf.  We recently sat down with Professor Weidenkopf to dig even deeper into this tumultuous time in the history of the Church.

Q. You refer to a period that most people know of as the Protestant Reformation as the Protestant Revolution. Can you explain?

A.  We must recall that the history taught in our country is presented primarily through an English-Protestant perspective. That perspective presents the events of the sixteenth century in the guise of a “reformation.” This false narrative, which is extremely prevalent even among Catholics, paints the Catholic Church of the sixteenth century as an evil, oppressive, power-hungry monolith that was bent on the destruction of religious freedom. Its leaders were motivated by greed and maintained their power through the creation of superstitious practices that played on the ignorance of the masses. The heroic actions of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the false narrative maintains, freed the Christian Faith from popery and made the Scriptures accessible to all Christians. In reality, Luther and Calvin were not interested in the authentic reform of the Church but desired her complete destruction. Authentic Church reform involves the correction of abuses, the restoration of good habits, and the maintenance of the foundational aspects of the Church, such as its hierarchical structure and sacramental constitution. Any movement that seeks to destroy the Church—its organization, its sacraments, its way of life—and replace it with something new and not in conformity with apostolic tradition and history is a revolution, not a reformation. Studying the writings and lives of Luther and Calvin reveals that these men were not reformers but revolutionaries who sought the abolition of the Mass and other sacraments and the destruction of the Church’s apostolic foundations.

Q. Luther seemed to be a polarizing figure. What was happening at this time and place in history that made his teachings so attractive to so many people?

A. There is no doubt the Church was in need of reform in the sixteenth century. Many ecclesiastical abuses needed to be corrected, such as simony (the buying and selling of Church offices), nepotism, absenteeism (bishops not living in their dioceses), pluralism (bishops holding more than one diocese), and immoral clergy. Many within the Church urged the papacy to implement a comprehensive reform, and some popes attempted to do so. As an example, Pope Julius II called the Fifth Lateran Council to address these ecclesiastical abuses, but it completed its work only seven months before Luther’s 95 Theses, which was not enough time to implement its reform decrees throughout the Church. Additionally, the popes of the early sixteenth century, known as the “Renaissance Popes,” were more concerned with being secular princes than universal shepherds. The papacy suffered a significant loss of prestige during the fifteenth century, when the popes lived in Avignon, France, for seventy years. Their return to Rome was then marked by a forty-year schism (known as the Great Western Schism) of anti-popes. These papal problems, along with the ecclesiastical abuses, produced a sense of disunity in Christendom that was ripe for rebellion. Other factors that attracted people to Luther’s revolution included the political constitution of Germany, which was a collection of hundreds of small independent territories nominally controlled by the Holy Roman Emperor. A rising German nationalist movement contributed animosity toward Rome (primarily due to the heavy taxes inflicted upon German dioceses by the papacy). So, political and religious conditions were suitable for a revolution against the Church.

Q.  Do you think that reform in the Church was a resultant by-product of the Protestant Reformation/Revolution, and that some of the abuses that were pointed out resulted in reform in a positive direction?

A. Another term often used to describe the actions of the Church in the middle and late sixteenth century is the “Counter-Reformation.” Again, our history is told primarily through an English-Protestant perspective, and that term clearly illustrates that viewpoint. The very words imply the Protestant movement was an authentic reform that the Church then had to “counter” with her own reform. A more appropriate term, and one favored by many Catholic historians, is the “Catholic Reformation.” The Church did reform herself, primarily through the Council of Trent, the establishment of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), and the pontificates of Pope Paul III and Pope St. Pius V. The Church was on the path of reform before Luther and Calvin and would have ended the rampant ecclesiastical abuses without the Protestant Revolution. But I do think it’s fair to say the actions of Luther and Calvin focused the Church’s attention on the need for reform and provided a sense of urgency.

Q. The number of Protestant denominations is now very large and getting larger. Is it fair to say that the Protestant Revolution continues even today? If so, why?

A.  I think that’s a fair statement. The fundamental nature of Protestantism centers religious authority in the individual instead of in the Church (or, more specifically, the magisterium). The insistence on individual interpretation of the Scriptures, which is a foundational tenet of Protestantism, means there will always be competing and contrasting teachings embraced by rival groups.

Q. How soon after the teachings of Luther and Calvin were formulated did other Protestant denominations begin to branch off because of doctrinal differences?

A. Differences among Protestants were present at the very beginning of the movement. Both Luther and Calvin dealt with severe critics of their teachings as well as splinter groups that advocated a radical departure from the Protestant Revolution. Luther debated the Swiss revolutionary Ulrich Zwingli at the Colloquy of Marburg in 1529, only twelve years after the publication of his 95 Theses. Zwingli disagreed with Luther on the nature of the Eucharist and other teachings, and both men detested each other. The Anabaptists violently captured the city of Muenster in 1534, where they destroyed the city’s Catholic churches, established a commune, and engaged in polygamy. Based on its interpretation of Scripture, this group rejected the validity of infant baptism in opposition to the teachings of Luther and the Church. John Calvin famously ordered the execution of the Spaniard Michael Servetus, who vehemently disagreed with Calvin’s teachings contained in his book The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Protestantism is a revolutionary movement, and like most such movements in history it spawned violence, destruction, and disunity, which have greatly impacted Church and European history for the past five hundred years.

Q. Besides being one of the fathers of the Reformation, is it fair to say that Luther was also the father of anti-Catholic rhetoric?

A. Actually, anti-Catholic rhetoric is as old as the Church itself. One can find clear examples of it in the early Church in the writings of various pagan Roman authors who wrote anti-Catholic tracts and pamphlets urging Romans not to convert to the Faith. Earlier “proto-Protestants” such as John Wyclif in England and Jan Hus in Bohemia attacked the Church and her teachings with vitriol. Luther, however, took anti-Catholic rhetoric to a new level in his writings when he referred to the Church as the “whore of Babylon” and the pope as the “anti-Christ.” Luther’s writings are full of hateful, sarcastic, and venomous attacks against the sacramental nature of the Church, her hierarchical organization, many of her pious practices, and even her embrace of Aristotelian philosophy in the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas. In fact, Luther called for the ban of Aristotle’s works in his 1520 treatise An Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, writing that the “blind heathen” [Aristotle] was sent by God as “a plague” on the Church “on account of our sins.”

In The Real Story of the Reformation, Weidenkopf dismantles the mythical narrative about the two pivotal figures of the Protestant Reformation—or rather, Revolution, because what they wrought was not a reform of the Church but a radical break from it. He replaces that narrative with a true account of Luther and Calvin’s ideas, their actions and character, and their disastrous legacy for the modern world.

The Heresy/Schism of Montanism

Tertullian
-Tertullian, (155-240 AD), a famous Montanist, and early Christian writer

It has nothing to do with the state of Montana. It is a heresy or, better yet, a schism caused by the prophet, Montanus, and two prophetesses, Maximilla and Prisca (Priscilla) in Phrygia during the late second century.

As witnessed in the Acts of the Apostles, the exterior gifts of the Holy Spirit (e.g. praying in tongues & prophecy) were common in the infant Church. But St. Paul already in his First Epistle to the Corinthians warns Christians that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit are not as important as the interior gifts of sanctity. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,… And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries… but have not love, I am nothing”. [1 Cor. 13:1-2]Such exterior gifts need to be tempered by humility and obedience to the Church, since Satan can more easily counterfeit them.

Montanus became a convert to Christianity around A.D. 170. He lived in Asia Minor, and, prior to his conversion, he was a priest in an Asiatic cult called Cybele. He claimed that he had the gift of prophecy, prophesying in an ecstatic state. Eusebius, a church historian born around A.D. 260-270, wrote the following of Montanus: “In his lust for leadership, he became obsessed and would suddenly fall into frenzy and convulsions. He began to be ecstatic and speak and talk strangely, and prophesied contrary to that which was the custom from the beginning of the church. Those who heard him were convinced that he was possessed. They rebuked him and forbade him to speak, remembering the warning of the Lord Jesus to be watchful because false prophets would come” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5.16.1). Montanus was joined by two women, Priscilla and Maximilla, who also claimed to have the gift of prophecy and also prophesied in an ecstatic state.

It was not the idea of prophecy that caused a great disturbance in the church. It was the manner in which they prophesied. They had departed from the biblical norms of prophecy, both in content and in the manner in which they expressed their prophesies. They as a trio believed that they had received revelation from the Lord while being in an ecstatic state. This style of prophesying was likened to the same irrational, ecstatic prophetic style that was a part of Montanus’ life prior to his conversion when he was a priest of Cybele.

Unfortunately Montanus and his followers, called Montanists, did not remain loyal to the Church but broke away. At first, their prophecies were not heretical but simply extravagant. The early prophecies called for penance and strict fasts on certain days. But unlike the prophets of the Old Testament who spoke as messengers of God: “Thus says the Lord”, Montanus claimed to be possessed by God and spoke as God: “I am the Lord God omnipotent, who has descended into man.”

These prophecies also occurred during mad ecstasies. This concerned certain holy Churchmen, who tried to exorcise them. Later Montanus claimed that Christ’s redemption was still not complete; therefore, God possessed him in order to fulfill the salvation for all men. The Montanists highly valued chastity, virginity and martyrdom. They also disapproved of second marriages. Due to their emotional and rigorous nature, they attracted Christians, who thought that the Church was too secular and lax. Due to his extreme personality, the famous Tertullian also joined them and defended their cause. The sect survived the death of Montanus for a few centuries, but eventually became small and secret before disappearing altogether.

Montanists did not believe those who had denied the faith during persecution should be readmitted, in contrast to the Catholic position that through contrition and sincere penance, unity with the Church for the apostate could be restored.

brianjohnzuelke

-by Br Brian John Zuelke, OP

“…Montanism was an early Church heresy that sought to live a more pure Christian life in opposition to what was perceived as the “worldliness” of the mainstream Church.

Montanus and his followers were disturbed by what they perceived to be a lack of charismatic gifts within the Church, from gifts of healing to ecstatic prophecy to speaking-in-tongues. They blamed this lack of “charismata” on the moral laxity of the Church, a moral laxity which tends to arise as a natural consequence of the Church’s “settling down” in the world.

They sought to recapture the zeal and moral purity of the Apostolic Church, an era when the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit flourished. They believed a new age was upon them which would see the flourishing of the charismatic gifts… but only for the “pure.”

In turn, the “institutional Church” was viewed with suspicion and derided for having sold out to the world. As Montanism matured, its radicalism gave rise to heretical doctrines concerning the Trinity — a sort of modalism, (Ed. Modalism/Sabellianism is a type of heresy which denies the Nicene Trinity.  It rather proposes only one God who acts in three modes, but does not recognize those modes as three distinct Persons) in the end — and schismatic attitudes towards the Church. It was not violently suppressed: it simply fizzled-out.

…In our own new age of “new evangelization,” do we sometimes look at the “institutional Church” of episcopacy and Pope as a hindrance rather than a gift in spreading the gospel? Are we keen for miraculous events and new prophecy which will lead us out of the doldrums we find ourselves in?

Are we over-zealous at times for an exciting, “Spirit-filled” Church which has little time for the slow, patient work of conversion that Pope Francis seems to favor in Evangelii Gaudium (see n. 222ff)?

In fact, this age of new evangelization calls us to a new unity within the Church, that all may work together to mission ad extra and renewal ad intra.”

Love,
Matthew

Oct 17 – The Heresy of Gnosticism

ignatius2

Even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.” ~2 Peter 2:1

The Catholic Church makes a distinction between ‘material’ (Ed: “in reality, as a ‘matter’ of real fact”) and ‘formal’ heresy. Material heresy means in effect “holding erroneous doctrines through no fault of one´s own” as occurs with people brought up in non-Catholic communities, i.e. through ignorance, or accident of birth, and “is neither a crime nor a sin”.

The material heretic is ready and willing to be corrected, and assent, were the truth made plain to them.  BIG EXAMPLE:  ignorant, or less than perfectly trained, catechists, i.e. yours truly.  There are many scholarly types on the distribution for this blog for just this reason!  🙂 I rely on them to keep me, a) humble, and b) on the straight and narrow! We ignorants mean well, but we just don’t know better when the Internet is feeding us nonsense.  🙂  Thank goodness for copy/paste, or is it the work of the devil?  🙂  Thank you, auditors!!!!

Formal (Ed: knowing the truth, that it is held to be the truth by the Church, as a formal matter of dogma, and willfully rejecting it) heresy is “the willful and persistent adherence to an error in matters of faith”.   The formal heretic refuses to be corrected.  One must be baptized in order to be a heretic.  Those unbaptized are under the category “other”.

The Church holds that since God created Creation and deemed it “good” (Gen 1:31), it cannot, intrinsically, be evil, as some heresies have held.  For Catholics, the “glass is half-full”.  Heresies go by many names, through many ages.  They persist even into our modern world under guise.  It is said, “there are no new heresies”.  Bad thinking leads to bad action.  Some have suggested  modern forms of Gnosticism are Scientology and Freemasonry.

-by Br Isaac Augustine Morales, OP (Br Isaac received a doctorate in New Testament from Duke University and taught in the Department of Theology at Marquette University for four years before joining the Order.)

“From the earliest days, the Church has faced the perennial temptation to deny the goodness of material creation in general and of the human body in particular. The Platonic notion of the body as a “prison” from which the soul must escape has cropped up repeatedly throughout the Church’s history, only to be condemned every time someone proposed it.

We see one particular form of this error, the denial that Jesus really took on flesh and blood, reflected in the New Testament, and it is condemned in no uncertain terms: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 Jn 7). What is it that drives this temptation? And what makes the idea derived from it so pernicious that St. John calls those who embrace it “antichrist”?

The answer to the first question stems from two factors: the majesty of God and the messiness of creation. In the early centuries, God was seen as totally other than creation, in the words of 1 Timothy, “immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim 1:17). God transcends the world and, unlike us, is not subject to change, to corruption, to pain and suffering, to anything that belongs to this world. Contrast this picture of an ineffable God with creation, particularly after the fall: we are born, we grow old, we suffer, we die. To many it seemed unfitting for God to experience birth and to have His diapers changed, much less to endure the shame and torture of one of the cruelest forms of execution ever devised by men. This is one aspect of the scandal of the Incarnation: that the God who transcends creation has joined Himself so fully to it that he knows first-hand our challenges and our trials.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, whom the Church commemorates today, meditated on this mystery as he was being led to Rome for his own execution, and he condemns the denial of Christ’s real flesh and blood as forcefully as the Second Letter of John. In one of his letters Ignatius explains the importance of Christ’s actual flesh and blood:

But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? Why do I long to be exposed to the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord?

There are at least two dangers in this denial of Christ’s real humanity and suffering: it empties Christian suffering of its purpose, and it implies deception on God’s part. To take the latter point first, if Jesus only appeared to be human and to suffer – if his looks are deceiving – then the Gospels lie to us. Jesus has nothing in common with us, and His life was a mere show – and a fraudulent One at that.

Closer to home for Ignatius, Jesus’ actual suffering in the flesh was closely bound up with his own impending martyrdom. In some mysterious way, Christ’s suffering takes up and incorporates the suffering of the members of his body:

By [the cross] He calls you through His passion, as being His members. The head, therefore, cannot be born by itself, without its members; God, who is [the Savior] Himself, having promised their union.

In His suffering and death, Christ manifests His solidarity with the human race, showing Himself to be a God who knows our trials not in some distant, indifferent way, but personally and experientially.

If the sole purpose of the Incarnation were Christ’s solidarity with us in our suffering, then Christianity would be little more than divinely sanctioned masochism. But for Ignatius, suffering – both Christ’s and ours – is not an end in itself, but rather a bridge to eternal life. It is by our suffering that we participate in Christ’s own sacrifice and through it come to the glory of His Resurrection. This is why one can rightly call a death at the jaws of lions a happy and peaceful one. The peace comes from the sure hope that death does not have the final victory – Christ has conquered it through the Resurrection.

Most of us are probably not ready to offer our bodies to the lions as Ignatius did, but we must remember that it was not on the basis of his own strength that he faced his death. He drew strength from feeding on Christ’s own Eucharistic flesh and blood, which he called the “medicine of immortality.” By feeding on this medicine we too can be strengthened to face our own trials and, God willing, pass through a happy death to the glory of the Resurrection.”

Love,
Matthew

Baptism of the Lord & The Heresy of Adoptionism

Baptism-of-Christ-xx-Francesco-Alban
-“Baptism of Christ”, by Francesco Albani, oil on canvas, (1630-1635), State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russian Federation, the heresy of Adoptionism declares this may have been one event where God “adopted” Jesus as His Son.

athanasius murphy

-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” The words of John the Baptist to Christ in Matthew’s Gospel are worth pondering. Why would Jesus need to be baptized? Being the Son of God, why be troubled at all about the ritual of baptism, especially by a man like John the Baptist?

It is easy to fall into error over this question. Some people have concluded that since Jesus underwent baptism, he must have been in need of something, and so Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father made Jesus divine. This heresy has been called Adoptionism, since it contends that Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father ‘adopted’ Jesus and he ‘really’ became divine.

But what, then, are the real reasons that Jesus desired to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan? One reason is that Jesus was not baptized to be cleansed himself, but to cleanse others. Though he was not a sinner himself, Christ took on our sinful nature and the likeness of sinful flesh when he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary. Now, during his baptism, the old man of our sinful nature was plunged below the waters so that we might grow into the full stature of adopted sons of God. In Christ’s descent into the Jordan River, the waters are given the virtue of baptism, and our frail nature is restored.

Another reason is so that Christ could lay a path that all his disciples could imitate. In response to John the Baptist’s question, Christ replies that his own baptism is fitting “to fulfill all righteousness.” In commenting on this verse, St. Ambrose states that true righteousness is to “do first yourself what you wish another to do, and so encourage others by your example.” By entering into the waters of the Jordan, Christ gives an example to us in humility and obedience to his Father in heaven. This obedience, which is fulfilled completely in Christ’s passion, is the example which every Christian is called to follow.

The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Christ’s ministry in Galilee and Judah, and is the fulfillment of God’s promise to save mankind. But it is fitting that Christ’s ministry should begin immediately after his baptism in the Jordan River. As St. Ambrose noted, where Elijah divided the river of the Jordan with his mantle of old, so now Christ, in these same waters, will make all things new by separating the plague of sin from our human nature. May we thank God for our own baptism, and encourage others to be cleansed from sin in the water that was first cleansed by the pure, spotless, and saving flesh of Christ.”

Love,
Matthew

Heresy, Truth, and the Order of Preachers

-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP  (Br. Bonaventure Chapman entered the Order of Preachers in 2010. He received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“If you ask a Dominican to compare the success of the Order of Preachers to that of the Society of Jesus, you may be treated to the following jocular comment: “Well, the Dominicans were founded to defeat the Albigensian heresy and the Jesuits were founded to defeat the Protestant Reformation. How many Albigensians do you see running around today?”

As a convert and student of the Reformation I have always found this comment a bit ironic. And not because of the obvious historical fact that, at least according to Luther, we Dominicans got the whole “late unpleasantness” started with the preaching of Johann Teztel, O.P., and his famous ditty: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / a soul from purgatory springs.” This fact alone should incline any Jesuit enthusiast to retort to the Dominican heckler, “You started it! Clean up your own mess!”

But, and I always fear giving Jesuits anti-Dominican ammunition, it is a lesser known although more crucial figure of the Reformation that proves the joke’s irony. For if there were a Time magazine of the Reformation, and if it were in the habit of recognizing a “Man of the Reformation,” it’s almost certain that this honor would go to an ex-Dominican friar named Martin Bucer.

Bucer was a Reformation force; he had his hand in almost every strand of Protestant development. Born in Schlettstadt, Germany, in 1491, he joined the Order of Preachers at age sixteen and was ordained to the priesthood in 1516. He taught at the Dominican studium until 1521, when he left the Order to begin his career as a reformer. He moved to Strasbourg, leading the reformation in that city. Bucer was a theological polymath. He was conditioned, according to Ian Hazlett, “by an extraordinary coalescence of humanist, Erasmian, Aristotelian, Thomist, Neoplatonist, Augustinian, Lutheran, and biblical influences.” This vast learning, owed to his Dominican education and formation, allowed him to be the “Elder Statesman” for the major branches of the Reformation: Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican.

Bucer was with Luther from the beginning, encountering him at the Disputation of Heidelberg in 1518 and undergoing a religious conversion based upon this encounter. He continued to play a key role in Lutheran theological development through his work with Philip Melanchthon and his various failed attempts at union between Luther and Zwingli. In Strasbourg, Bucer mentored the young John Calvin during a time when, as Bernard Cottret writes, “Calvin became ‘Calvin.’” This young French Reformer took what he learned from Bucer and went back to Geneva to found the center of Reformed Protestantism, one of the most famous—or infamous—cities in Western civilization.

Just in case the Continent wasn’t enough, Bucer moved to England during the trials and travails of the Reformation there in the 1550s. He was a key advisor to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and the English Reformer happily looked to the man of Strasbourg for theological and political counsel. While Strasbourg itself did not live up to its aspirations as the Rome of the Reformation, Bucer asserted a quasi-papal influence around the globe during the Reformation, and a significant reason for his power was, without a doubt, his training as a Friar Preacher.

So what can we learn from this less-edifying episode in the history of the Dominican Order? Two things, I think. First, while Dominican involvement in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation was by no means all negative (think of Cardinal Cajetan and Pope Pius V, as well as all those delightfully Thomistic decrees from Trent!), Martin Bucer is a reminder that the greater the climb, the greater the potential fall. St. Thomas argues that, because of his greater excellence and thus greater temptation to pride, it is understandable that it was the highest of the angels—not some pipsqueak angel!—who fell from grace (see ST Ia. q. 63, a. 7). The devil is no idiot, but expansive erudition is no infallible guard against sin, or even against heresy or schism.

Secondly, and more positively for poor Bucer, while his great learning allowed him to be so influential during those years, his campaign was always one of reunion with the Church, not absolute separation. Before Trent he was at the forefront of all dialogues and colloquies between the Catholic Church and the Protestant traditions; he urged troubled Catholics not to leave the Church but to attempt reform within, and he even accorded a primacy of honor to the pope. His was not the radical withdrawal of Zwingli, of the older Luther, or of Calvin, and, when members of these more separatist groups challenged his commitment to the Reformation, he chided them by saying: “It is all very well for those supping wine and beer in cozy bars to rubbish those who slave away at these controversies and struggles.” Perhaps his residual Romanism and drive for reunion was due to his solid scholastic theology in the Dominican studium.

There may not be any Albigensians running around these days, but there are still plenty of separated brethren of the various Protestant communities, and in large part due to this former Dominican. And if Bucer’s Dominican heritage allowed him to influence all the strands of Protestantism, so too can this same Dominican tradition allow us not just to engage with his ecclesial heirs, but to achieve the reunion of all Christians in Christ’s Church.”

(c) The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

-oil on panel, The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection, circa 1650-1689

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4)

Love,
Matthew

Jan 13 – St Hilary of Poitiers, (315?-368 AD), Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Christ’s Divinity, Hammer of the Arians

St.-Hilary-of-Poitiers1

I love Pilate’s question.  “What is Truth?” (Jn 18:38), asked by so many in our own day, or not.  I have spent a VERY LONG TIME praying on THAT ONE!!!!  I still do.  I will until breath or thought are no longer mine.

Rather than seek out and admit to Truth, the burden of Which is tremendous in its implications and responsibilities for us, many shrink/cower in fear or laziness and become their own truth, their own god, saying falsely, “There is no God.” Or, “God is Whom I wish Him to be.”  In Gen 3:5, the effects of the deception of the serpent persist.  Not only did Adam & Eve not become like God, we still believe we know, inherently, as a matter of fact, of and from our own reference of ourselves, our own whims, preferences, fashions and passions, a self-idolatry, the difference between Good & Evil.  Untrue.  An intellectual idol if ever there was one, not of silver or gold, but of self-satisfaction and reassurance.  Safe, warm, self-satisfied, self-established, self-proclaimed, self-determined, self-assured, and false.  Heresy.  Psalm 135:15-18.

No.  One of the defining qualities of the True God is He is utterly transcendent.  We do not define Him, in any way, form, or iota, nor, be forewarned and wary, should we ever be tempted to try.  He defines us.  He does not need us.  We need Him, desperately.  Classical catechesis teaches us if God ever stopped thinking about us, we would vanish into nothingness.  All Creation exists because of and holds/remains because of the mindfulness of God.  He loves us, surely, but voluntarily loves us; the only true love, and utterly not out of some necessity.  That would be some sort of co-dependency.  And I am unaware God is co-dependent.

After the Resurrection, and even with the compilation, eventually, of the canon of Scripture, i.e., Council of Carthage, 397 AD, there were still many practical questions those wishing to live the Christian faith reasonably had.  Details, details, details.  Details are important.  If, as the conventional wisdom goes, it is all about relationships, then details matter.  How would your most important relationships fare without the intimate details/”history” those relationships are based upon?  Not so well, I confidently posit.

And so, it goes with God, in that most important Relationship, upon which all depends, details matter.  Don’t get the details right and the Relationship is askew, misdirected, misinformed, misshapen, misunderstood, ineffective, failing or failed.  You don’t “get It!”  The very definition of sin is being out of right Relationship with God, of not “getting it”, not rendering, as justice demands, as a creature of the Creator, just worship and love for the fact of even just being.

While the Church certainly faces its challenges in our own day, the first thousand years of Christianity were plagued by, among others, Arianism.  Arianism was a belief created by Arius, Bishop of Alexandria AD 250–336, in Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of God the Father to God the Son, essentially denying the equality in divinity of Jesus to His Father. Arius asserted that the Son of God was a subordinate entity to God the Father. Arius was condemned as a heretic.

The Arian concept of Christ is that the Son of God did not always exist, but was created by, and is therefore a creature/creation of God the Father. This belief is grounded in the misinterpretation of the Gospel of John passage “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (Jn 14:28)  Although condemned, the damage was done. The heresy spread rapidly. St. Jerome said “The world groaned and marveled to find that it was Arian.”

Hilary was a gentle and courteous man, devoted to writing some of the greatest theology on the Trinity, and was like his Master in being labeled a “disturber of the peace.” In a very troubled period in the Church, his holiness was lived out in both scholarship and controversy.  Hilary was born in Poitiers, France, at the beginning of the fourth century. In the early centuries of Christianity, paganism, of course, was prevalent.  Hilary’s family was pagan, as was Hilary, by birth.  He married and raised a family.  His daughter’s name was Apra.

Receiving an excellent education, Hilary, though, was drawn to the study of Scripture.  Hilary learned that, from studying Scripture, a person should practice patience, kindness, justice and as many good habits as possible. These good acts would be rewarded in the life after death. Hilary’s studies also convinced him that there could only be One God Who is eternal, all-powerful and good. He read the Bible continuously.

When he came to the story of Moses and the burning bush, Hilary was very impressed by the name God gave himself: I AM WHO AM. Hilary read the writings of the prophets, too. Then he read the whole New Testament. By the time he finished, Hilary was completely converted to Christianity, and he asked to be baptized.

Hilary lived the faith so well that he was appointed bishop, against his personal wishes. This did not make his life easy because the Roman Emperor was interfering in Church matters. When Emperor Constantius ordered all the bishops of the West to sign a condemnation of St Athanasius, the great defender of the faith in the East, Hilary refused and was banished from France to far off Phrygia (in modern-day Turkey). Eventually Hilary was called the “Athanasius of the West.” It was then when Hilary’s great virtues of patience and courage stood out. He accepted exile calmly and used the time to write books explaining the Catholic faith.

While writing in exile, he was invited by some semi-Arians (hoping for reconciliation) to a council the emperor called to counteract the Council of Nicea, where the true Catholic doctrine of the Trinity was affirmed and defined. Hilary predictably defended the Church, and when he sought public debate with the heretical bishop who had exiled him, the Arians, dreading the meeting and its outcome, pleaded with the emperor to send this troublemaker back home, where they hoped he would receive less notoriety.

Since he was becoming famous, Hilary’s enemies asked the emperor to send him back to his home in France. They hoped that people would pay less attention to him there. So Hilary was sent back to Poitiers in 360.  He was received at home with great joy by the people of Poitiers. He continued writing and teaching about the Faith. Hilary died eight years later, at the age of fifty-two. His books have influenced the Church right to our own day.

“To those who wish to stand in God’s grace, neither the guardianship of saints nor the defenses of angels are wanting.” – Saint Hilary, Commentary on the Psalms

Prayer of St Hilary of Poitiers

“I am well aware, almighty God and Father, that in my life I owe you a most particular duty. It is to make my every thought and word speak of You.

In fact, You have conferred on me this gift of speech, and it can yield no greater return than to be at Your service. It is for making You known as Father, the Father of the only-begotten God, and preaching this to the world that knows You not and to the heretics who refuse to believe in You.

In this matter the declaration of my intention is only of limited value. For the rest, I need to pray for the gift of Your help and Your mercy. As we spread our sails of trusting faith and public avowal before You, fill them with the breath of Your Spirit, to drive us on as we begin this course of proclaiming Your Truth. We have been promised, and He who made the promise is trustworthy: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Yes, in our poverty we will pray for our needs. We will study the sayings of your prophets and apostles with unflagging attention, and knock for admittance wherever the gift of understanding is safely kept. But Yours it is, Lord, to grant our petitions, to be present when we seek You and to open when we knock.

There is an inertia in our nature that makes us dull; and in our attempt to penetrate Your truth we are held within the bounds of ignorance by the weakness of our minds. Yet we do comprehend divine ideas by earnest attention to Your teaching and by obedience to the Faith which carries us beyond mere human apprehension.

So we trust in You to inspire the beginnings of this ambitious venture, to strengthen its progress, and to call us into a partnership in the spirit with the prophets and the apostles. To that end, may we grasp precisely what they meant to say, taking each word in its real and authentic sense. For we are about to say what they already have declared as part of the mystery of revelation: that you are the eternal God, the Father of the eternal, only-begotten God; that You are one and not born from another; and that the Lord Jesus is also one, born of You from all eternity. We must not proclaim a change in Truth regarding the number of gods. We must not deny that He is begotten of You Who are the One God; nor must we assert that He is other than the true God, born of You, who are truly God the Father.

Impart to us, then, the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it, with reverence for the doctrine and confidence in its Truth. Grant that we may express what we believe. Through the prophets and apostles we know about You, the One God the Father, and the One Lord Jesus Christ. May we have the grace, in the face of heretics who deny You, to honor You as God, Who is not alone, and to proclaim this as Truth.”  -from a sermon On the Trinity (Lib 1, 37-38: PL 10, 48-49) by Saint Hilary of Poitiers.  This prayer is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers.

Old English liturgical books have the following Preface for the Liturgy on the feast day of St. Hilary: “… that we should always and in all places give thanks, pay our vows, and consecrate our gifts to Thee, O Holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God. Who of old didst choose Thy blessed confessor Hilary for Thyself to be a prelate of sanctified confession, shining brightly with radiance vast, mighty in the meekness of his ways, burning with the fervour of his faith, flowing with the fountain of his speech. For the One in Whom his glory lay, is revealed by the multitudes thronging his sepulchre, the purification of those that hasten to it, the healing of the diseased there, the signs of astonishing miracles…”
-from the complete Old Sarum Rite Missal, (c) 1998 St. Hilarion Press

Prayer

O Lord our God, Who raised up Your servant Hilary to be a champion of the Catholic faith: Keep us steadfast in that true faith which we professed at our baptism, that we may rejoice in having You for our Father, and may abide in your Son, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; Who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Sola fides? Are you Saved? I’m working on it. I hope so.

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Phil 2:12

-by Patricia May, Arkansas Catholic, 3/26/11

“Many Catholics, especially those living in the South, have heard the question posed by Protestants. Unprepared by the Church to properly answer, they often shrug off the question or walk away.

But Catholics should not only respond, they ought to engage their questioners in discussion. That’s the position of Dr. C. Colt Anderson, dean of Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C., and the featured speaker March 10 at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish’s third annual theology lecture.

Originally from Georgia, Anderson said he’s faced the question. He asked the audience of mostly college students to answer, “Are you saved?” “Working on it,” responded one listener. A pretty good answer, Anderson acknowledged. Better, he said, is the response: “I hope so.”

Catholic doctrine supplies the proper foundation for response, Anderson said, and Catholics should be confident answering. “We can say we have hope, strong hope (that we’re saved), but we can’t know for sure.”

To believe one is saved is to risk a potentially dangerous smugness. “If we knew for sure (that we’re saved), it could lead to spiritual self-satisfaction … the equivalent of spiritual death,” Anderson explained. That’s because God expects us to continually grow. “We’re called to grow into being like Christ.”

He continued, “Ask yourself: Am I more faithful now than I was a year ago? Do I have more hope? Am I more loving now than I was?” Catholics must constantly be increasing in faith, hope and love, Anderson said.

“It’s not enough to think kind thoughts about hungry people. We must do something for them,” he explained.

Anderson cited references from the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation, in his explanations. “Why don’t we make the effort to engage people about what we consider (to be) important?” He challenged listeners that, if they really believe in the possibility of eternal damnation as well as Christ’s admonition to love your neighbor, “You can’t just walk away from the question.”

To show they really care, Catholics “should try to help them.” They should explain that each person is given a gift of grace from God along with the freedom to accept it (and to love and grow in that grace), or to reject it. But, “How often do we fail to share our faith?”

And what about loving all people?

“We have to love the worst people. … We should love racists … violent people … greedy people because Christ came and loved all of us,” Anderson continued.

Just as individuals have different talents and gifts, so may the graces they receive differ, Anderson said. As an example, he noted that St. Francis of Assisi called himself the worst sinner in the world. A follower disagreed, pointing out the good Francis had done. The Italian saint demurred, saying that if the worst sinner got the grace I’ve got, he would have done a better job with it.

“Good things come from God. Sins are ours, but we don’t want to give them up,” Anderson continued.

Faith alone is not enough to save us, Anderson said. The gifts of faith, hope and love reflect the triad of the Trinity, he said, and “The Scriptures are on our side.” St. James said “Faith without works is dead.”

Asked for his thoughts on purgatory, Anderson said he doesn’t know what purgatory is, but it may be a place where “unfinished business has to be dealt with.” Sins are forgiven but there may still be lasting damage from those sins that must be addressed.

“You’re given absolution from your sins but you’ve done damage. … Some effort has to be made … Unfinished business has to be dealt with before you get into heaven,” he said.

Traditionally, Catholics have been taught to pray for the dead in purgatory — until now. “We haven’t taught this generation to pray for us,” he said.

But, Anderson said he’ll pray for people he thinks may be in purgatory. After all, “It doesn’t do any harm to pray.”

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-Michaelangelo’s “Last Judgment”, Sistine Chapel

Love,
Matthew

Feb 23 – St Polycarp (69 -155 AD), Bishop of Smyrna, Martyr

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It is a Catholic tradition that when celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation, whereby one becomes an adult in the Church and a “Soldier for Christ”, ready to lay one’s life down for the Faith, the old expression goes, one should take a new name, a saint’s name.  Taking a new name is ancient tradition signifying a new identity – kings, prophets, etc.  The idea is that that saint would be a guide and intercessor for the confirmand to strengthen them the rest of their life to live the Faith as faithfully as possible.  This is done more, hopefully still, for young people than for adults entering the Church, although I think the RCIA graduates would benefit just as much.

My parents had friends who made all of their children take the name “Polycarp” as their confirmation name.  Cruel joke some no doubt would say, and I am sure their children’s friends in catechism class had no mercy – so much for Christian virtue among Catholic youth.  Imagine each of these young people muttering “Polycarp” under their breath, as quietly as possible, each time their catechist asked them what name they would take, or the bishop asking, somewhat loudly, what name, or having to wear it on a paper sign around one’s neck – a scarlet letter, no doubt!  Such are the character builders of growing up Catholic!

Imagine being able to sit at the feet of the apostles and hear their stories of life with Jesus from their own lips. Imagine walking with those who had walked with Jesus, seen him, and touched him. That was what Polycarp was able to do as a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist.

But being part of the second generation of Church leaders had challenges that the first generation could not teach about. What did you do when those eyewitnesses were gone? How do you carry on the correct teachings of Jesus? How do you answer new questions that never came up before?

With the apostles gone, heresies sprang up pretending to be true teaching, persecution was strong, and controversies arose over how to celebrate liturgy that Jesus never laid down rules for.

Polycarp, as a holy man and bishop of Smyrna, found there was only one answer — to be true to the life of Jesus and imitate that life. Saint Ignatius of Antioch told Polycarp “your mind is grounded in God as on an immovable rock.”

When faced with heresy, he showed the “candid face” that Ignatius admired and that imitated Jesus’ response to the Pharisees.  Marcion, the leader of the Marcionites who followed a dualistic heresy – believing their were two gods, a wrathful god of the Hebrew Scriptures and a loving god of the New Testament, confronted Polycarp and demanded respect by saying, “Recognize us, Polycarp.” Polycarp responded, “I recognize you, yes, I recognize the son of Satan.”

On the other hand when faced with Christian disagreements he was all forgiveness and respect. One of the controversies of the time came over the celebration of Easter. The East, where Polycarp was from, celebrated the Passover as the Passion of Christ followed by a Eucharist on the following day. The West celebrated Easter on the Sunday of the week following Passover. When Polycarp went to Rome to discuss the difference with Pope Anicetus, they could not agree on this issue. But they found no difference in their Christian beliefs. And Anicetus asked Polycarp to celebrate the Eucharist in his own papal chapel.

Polycarp faced persecution the way Christ did. His own church admired him for following the “gospel model” — not chasing after martyrdom as some did, particularly the Marcionites, but avoiding it until it was God’s will as Jesus did. They considered it “a sign of love to desire not to save oneself alone, but to save also all the Christian brothers and sisters.”

One day, during a bloody martyrdom when Christians were attacked by wild animals in the arena, the crowd became so mad that they demanded more blood by crying, “Down with the atheists; let Polycarp be found.” (They considered Christians “atheists” because they didn’t believe in their pantheon of gods.) Since Polycarp was not only known as a leader but as someone holy “even before his grey hair appeared”, this was a horrible demand.

Polycarp was calm but others persuaded him to leave the city and hide at a nearby farm. He spent his time in prayer for people he knew and for the Church. During his prayer he saw a vision of his pillow turned to fire and announced to his friends that the dream meant he would be burned alive.

As the search closed in, he moved to another farm, but the police discovered he was there by torturing two boys. He had a little warning since he was upstairs in the house but he decided to stay, saying, “God’s will be done.”

Then he went downstairs, talked to his captors and fed them a meal. All he asked of them was that they give him an hour to pray. He spent two hours praying for everyone he had every known and for the Church, “remembering all who had at any time come his way — small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world.” Many of his captors started to wonder why they were arresting this holy, eighty-six-year-old bishop.

But that didn’t stop them from taking him into the arena on the Sabbath. As he entered the arena, the crowd roared like the animals they cheered. Those around Polycarp heard a voice from heaven above the crowd, “Be brave, Polycarp, and act like a man.”

The proconsul begged the eighty-six-year-old bishop to give in because of his age. “Say ‘Away with the atheists'” the proconsul urged. Polycarp calmly turned to the face the crowd, looked straight at them, and said, “Away with the atheists.” The proconsul continued to plead with him. When he asked Polycarp to swear by Caesar to save himself, Polycarp answered, “If you imagine that I will swear by Caesar, you do not know who I am. Let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian.” Finally, when all else failed the proconsul reminded Polycarp that he would be thrown to the wild animals unless he changed his mind. Polycarp answered, “Change of mind from better to worse is not a change allowed to us.”

Because of Polycarp’s lack of fear, the proconsul told him he would be burned alive but Polycarp knew that the fire that burned for an hour was better than eternal fire.

When he was tied up to be burned, Polycarp prayed, “Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of You, God of angels and powers, of the whole creation and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your sight, I bless you, for having made me worthy of this day and hour, I bless you, because I may have a part, along with the martyrs, in the chalice of your Christ, to resurrection in eternal life, resurrection both of soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, among those who are in Your presence, as You have prepared and foretold and fulfilled, God Who is faithful and true. For this and for all benefits I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through Whom be to You with Him and the Holy Spirit glory, now and for all the ages to come. Amen.”

The fire was lit as Polycarp said Amen and then the eyewitnesses who reported said they saw a miracle. The fire burst up in an arch around Polycarp, the flames surrounding him like sails, and instead of being burned he seemed to glow like bread baking, or gold being melted in a furnace. When the captors saw he wasn’t being burned, they stabbed him. The blood that flowed put the fire out.

The proconsul wouldn’t let the Christians have the body because he was afraid they would worship Polycarp. The witnesses reported this with scorn for the lack of understanding of Christian faith: “They did not know that we can never abandon the innocent Christ who suffered on behalf of sinners for the salvation of those in this world.” After the body was burned, they stole the bones in order to celebrate the memory of his martyrdom and prepare others for persecution. The date was about February 23, 155.

“Stand fast, therefore, in this conduct and follow the example of the Lord, ‘firm and unchangeable in faith, lovers of the brotherhood, loving each other, united in truth,’ helping each other with the mildness of the Lord, despising no man.” – Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians

Prayer:
Saint Polycarp, sometimes Christ seems so far away from us. Centuries have passed since He and the apostles walked on the earth. Help us to see that He is close to us always and that we can keep Him near by imitating His life as you did.  Amen

Love,
Matthew