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Nov 22- St Cecilia (~200-230 AD) – Virgin & Martyr, Incorruptible, Heavenly Music

-“Saint Cecilia and an Angel”, c. 1617/1618 and c. 1621/1627, oil on canvas, overall: 87.5 x 108 cm (34 7/16 x 42 1/2 in.), framed: 109.9 x 130.2 x 6.4 cm (43 1/4 x 51 1/4 x 2 1/2 in.), Orazio Gentileschi (painter) Florentine, 1563 – 1639, National Gallery, Washington, DC, for greater detail, please click on the image.

-by Mariella Hunt

“The Psalms are songs that praise God or ask Him for protection. Historically, His people have faced great trials for not following the world and its corrupt ways. Many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 23, are so beloved that they are still used as prayers.

Music is the cry of the heart. It expresses sorrow, love, or anger. To this day, ancient hymns are used in traditional churches to express the soul’s longing for union with God.

Ritual and tradition are often criticized, but even secular listeners cannot deny the beauty of these hymns.

-Saints Cecilia, Valerian, and Tiburtius by Botticini, for greater detail, please click on the image.

Heavenly Song

Saint Cecilia is the Patron Saint of music in the Roman Catholic Church. She is patroness of music because it is said that she heard heavenly song in her heart. She might not have played the piano, though works of art often depict her doing so. Nonetheless, musicians ask for her intercession.

Cecilia came from a wealthy Roman family. Despite her fortune, she devoted her life to prayer. She was in love with Christ, and the privileges of wealth and status could not distract her from the ultimate goal of Heaven.

When she was given in marriage to a young man named Valerian, this did not change her mind. It was during the wedding ceremony that she heard the heavenly music. I imagine this music gave her the strength to be faithful to the promise she had made to God.

-“The Martyrdom of St Cecilia” by Carlo Saraceni (c. 1610), for greater detail, please click on the image for greater detail.

The Virgin Bride

Cecilia had made a vow of virginity earlier in life, and marriage would not change her mind. She hadn’t forgotten the promise that she had made to the Lord; instead, she decided to tell the man she had married that she was already taken — mind, soul, and body.

Marvel at this woman’s bravery! Forced to marry a mortal man, she could not be made to renounce her vow. Presumably on the night of her wedding, she told her husband that she was promised to Jesus.

Another man might have laughed at her or beaten her; Cecilia was blessed, for Valerian instead listened with interest. When Cecilia warned him that an angel was guarding her, he asked if he could also see this angel. Cecilia told him to go and be baptized. After his baptism, his eyes would be opened.

Instead of turning her in to the Prefect who was persecuting Christians, or even laughing at her words, Valerian went to be baptized.

-“The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia” by Raphael, please click on the image for greater detail.

A Holy Partnership

Valerian returned from his baptism and found Cecilia deep in prayer. By her side stood an angel guarding her. The angel crowned her with a wreath of roses and lilies, a sign of her favor with God.

After this, Valerian underwent a great conversion. He understood that the God of the Christians was real. He also accepted that the woman he had been given in marriage was holy. He did not touch her, allowing her to maintain her vow of virginity. Instead, he went out to serve the Lord; so many believers were being martyred that he felt the need to do something.

Valerian took the bodies of these holy martyrs and gave them proper burials. His brother, Tibertius, saw his brother’s joy in the Lord; he wanted to know the source, so we must assume that Valerian preached to him. Tibertius, too, was baptized. He joined his brother, burying martyrs in the dead of night.

-“Saint Cecilia” by Simon Vouet (1590–1649), circa 1626, oil on canvas, Height: 134.1 cm (52.7 in); Width: 98.2 cm (38.6 in), Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin, please click on the image for greater detail

Death Has Lost His Sting

Meanwhile, Cecilia preached the Gospel, converting thousands of people to Christianity.

When the Romans found out about this, she was arrested and put to trial. When she refused to renounce Jesus, she was condemned to be suffocated in the baths — but despite the heat, she did not sweat. Perhaps it was her angel protecting her.

When the prefect was told of this woman’s survival, he was enraged. Instead of recognizing Cecilia’s holiness, he ordered for her a quicker death: decapitation. This did not go as planned, either; the executioner struck her once, twice, three times, but was not successful.

Baffled, he left her bleeding. Cecilia lay dying in a pool of her own blood for three days. When she died on the third day, she was buried by Pope Urban and his deacons.

We Hear Heavenly Music

St. Cecilia’s unwavering love for Jesus, as well as her bravery in the face of persecution, make her one of the most beloved Saints. Her story teaches us to be faithful to the Truth when the world challenges our Faith.

She teaches us that Jesus was our first love, and He must remain so, no matter what it might cost us.

In 1599, officials exhumed her body and found her to be incorrupt. God had preserved her beauty as she had been on the day of her burial. It is said that her body exuded the fragrance of flowers; this is a sign of holiness.

Sing Like St. Cecilia

No love is greater than the love that Jesus feels for His people. When we choose to love Him back, choosing Him over popularity and comfort, we will receive great graces in return.

St. Cecilia’s story is proof that His love is worth it. It will preserve you from eternal death. As for Valerian’s task, a heart set on Jesus will make us restless to serve Him with love. When others see us serving Him, they might ask what we are doing — and be called by the Holy Spirit to join us.

Do not be ashamed to speak His name, under any circumstance; there is no other like it.”


What is the soul? 2

-“Soul Carried to Heaven”, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, c.1878, oil on canvas, 275 x 180 cm, please click on the image for greater detail.

-by Karlo Broussard

“If you bring up the topic of the soul, it’s not uncommon for folks to give you a blank stare. And even if folks do have something to say about it, they often think of it as some separate thing in us that’s interacting with our body—like how a puppeteer might manipulate a puppet or a poltergeist might maneuver a body as its own. But this is far from what the soul is.

To get a proper understanding of what we’re talking about, let’s start with two simple things: a rock and a plant. Is there a difference between the two? Any kid will tell you there is. The plant is alive; the rock is not.

So there’s something to the plant that makes it a living thing rather than a non-living thing. St. Thomas Aquinas, and Aristotle before him, identifies that something as the soul, “the first principle of life of those things which live” (Summa Theologiae I:75:1).

Therefore, everything that is living—plants, animals, humans, and all the rest (e.g., fungi, monerans)—has a soul and lives because of a soul. The soul is what makes a thing a living being.

But not all souls are created equal. In fact, plant souls, animal souls, and human souls all belong to different orders. These are called the vegetative, sensitive, and rational orders.

In 1914 and 1916, the Church’s ordinary Magisterium confirmed this truth when it published in the Acta Apostolica Sedis (the official journal of the Holy See) a list of twenty-four theses derived from the theological and philosophical tradition of Aquinas. Thesis 14 reads as follows:

Souls in the vegetative and sensitive orders cannot subsist of themselves, nor are they produced of themselves. Rather, they are no more than principles whereby the living thing exists and lives; and since they are wholly dependent upon matter, they are incidentally corrupted through the corruption of the composite.

Regardless of what order of soul we’re talking about, the next thing we need to know about a soul is that it is the form of a body. Aquinas follows Aristotle on this (ST I:76:1). The Catechism even adopts this explanation, enshrining it in official Catholic teaching:

The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body (CCC 365).

Form is just a word we use to signify that which makes a thing the kind of thing it is. For example, when we look at a table, it may happen to be made of wood or iron, but regardless of the material used to construct it, it nonetheless has the form of a table. In other words, it’s not a chair, a plate, a fork, a spoon, etc.—it’s a table. Form is the organizational pattern that makes the matter of a thing what it is—in this case, a table.

A soul is a form that makes a living thing the kind of living thing it is—a plant, an animal, a human person. It’s “the organizational pattern or form of all the parts and all the parts of all the parts,” coordinating the matter to be the kind of living thing it is. The soul of a plant informs and makes the plant’s matter that of a plant. The soul of a lion informs and makes the lion’s matter that of a lion. The soul of a human being informs and makes the human’s matter that of a human being.

By contrast, the matter of a plant that has died is no longer that of a plant. Immediately after death, the matter takes on new distinct forms. What these new forms are exactly may be hard to discern. But we do know they are now actually individual material substances that accidentally constitute what we see to be a single thing. These individual material substances would have been present virtually (not present as an actual substance) in the plant only before the loss of its soul. We may still call it a plant—but given that it no longer has its life principle to unify the matter and allow it to operate as plants do, the matter is no longer that of a plant. Likewise with a dead lion or human being. It’s the soul, then, that makes the body not only a living body, but the kind of living body it is.

Now, there are a couple of important points about the soul that follow from it being the form of the body. One is that the soul is not a separate substance from the body, like a ghost trapped in the machine of the body. Rather, the soul and body together (whether for a plant, an animal, or a human being) make up one thing—one substance.

We see that this is true by considering how the soul is the first principle of life not only in a thing, but also in all a thing’s activities. As the form of a living thing, the soul makes a thing what it is. Being a particular kind of thing involves having certain powers and activities that go with being the kind of thing it is. So a plant does what a plant does—takes in nutrients and grows. An animal does what’s proper to animals—like plants, it takes in nutrients and grows, but unlike plants, it senses and has the power to move. Human beings do what’s proper being a human—take in nutrients, grow, sense, move, and rationally know and love.

Since the soul makes a thing what it is, and since being a particular kind of thing involves having certain powers and activities, it follows that the soul is the seat of all of a living thing’s powers and activities.

Now, as Aquinas argues, vegetative and sensory powers and activities (which plants, animals, and humans have) belong to the bodies of corporeal beings (ST I:75:3). Since the soul is the seat of those bodily powers and activities, it follows that vegetative and sensory powers and activities proceed by way of both body and soul. And since these activities are of one thing—an action being performed by a single thing (the plant growing, the lion running, the human seeing)—it follows that body and soul together form one thing.

Another point is that the soul is entire in the whole body and in each of its united parts. A branch that’s cut from the tree, for example, no longer has the form of the tree. The matter takes on new distinct forms and thus becomes a conglomeration of individual material substances, just as the matter of the whole tree would if it were to die. The same goes for a limb that’s cut off from a human body: the cut off hand is no longer a human hand because it no longer has the person’s soul as its form. So there’s no dividing up the soul.

Given the different powers and activities that each order of souls allows for, we can see a certain hierarchy. As we move from plants to humans, we see the powers climb the ladder of perfection: nutrition and growth to sensation and self-local motion to rational knowledge and love.

There are many more questions that arise concerning the nature of souls. Can they exist without the body? Even if some can exist without the body, can they be destroyed? These we’ll have to save for some other time. But suffice it to say for now that as the form of a body, the soul is not all that mysterious after all.”

Love & truth,

How to destroy a soul

-“The Damned Soul”, drawing by Michelangelo Buonarroti c. 1525, black ink, 35,7 x 25,1 cm Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

-by Karlo Broussard

“In a previous article, we looked at the nature of the soul and left off with some important questions. Can the soul continue to exist after the death of the body? If so, can it be destroyed? Let’s consider these questions here.

The key to answering the question of whether a soul can continue to exist after death is figuring out whether a soul has any activities that transcend the boundaries of matter. Imagine a workaholic who never cultivated a life outside his work. All of a sudden, he’s retired, and he doesn’t know what to do with himself, because all of his activity was bound up with and dependent on his career. This is a way to illustrate the principle that action follows being—that something acts according to its mode of existence. If we can figure out the nature of the activity, then we can know the nature of the thing’s mode of being.

So, if a soul is like the workaholic, and its activities are entirely bound up with and dependent on matter, then its existence will be bound up with and dependent on matter. Such a soul would not be able to continue to exist after “retirement”—or, in this case, death.

If, however, a soul has activities that are not entirely bound up with and dependent on matter, then such a soul would have an aspect of its life that is independent of matter and thus would be able to continue to exist without its body—like the person who has a spouse and a family and hobbies outside his work to fully devote himself to once retirement comes.

For St. Thomas Aquinas, plants and animals do have souls, but those souls cannot exist without the body. His reason is that all the activities of plants and non-rational animals are bound up with and dependent on matter.

Nutrition and growth are obviously bound up with matter. Sensation, even though its powers are rooted in the soul, is necessarily tied up with matter. When we see something, for example, we see this man. We perceive this man being here and not there. We perceive this man being taller than the plant near his foot. We perceive the color black located here, in this man’s hair. Since our power of sight is exercised through the material medium of the eye, our power of sight necessarily always attains its objects under material conditions: particularity, spatial relations, and quantitative dimensions.

But our human power to know by virtue of the intellect is unlike the power of sight through the eye. We’re able to know the form or essence of something in a universal way, stripped of all material conditions. We’re able to know the essence, the nature, or the form of triangularity independent of the material conditions that make up each triangle—their size, color, location, and the stuff each one is made of. Even a triangle’s particularity is excluded from our knowledge of the form of triangularity.

Since our intellects act on universal ideas in a way that’s not under the conditions of matter, and since our intellects are powers of our souls, it follows that the soul has an activity that is, of itself, exercised apart from the body. And given that operation (or activity) follows the mode of being, we can conclude that the soul can exist without the body.

The next question is whether the soul is indestructible. Proving that a human soul can exist without the body doesn’t prove that the soul is indestructible. Sure, the destruction of the body doesn’t destroy the soul, but perhaps there is some other way that the soul could go out of existence.

For example, whatever is made up of parts can break apart. Can the soul break apart? Or perhaps the soul can go out of existence like how a tree goes out of existence when the tree’s matter loses its form as it’s being put through the woodchipper.

Let’s take a look at these options and see if the soul fits the bill.

We know that the soul can’t be destroyed via breaking apart because the soul is not made up of parts in the first place, being that it’s immaterial. We know that this is true given its immaterial activity of intellectual understanding, as demonstrated above.

The soul also cannot be destroyed via being separated from its form. Every material thing is composed of what philosophers refer to as form and matter. For example, a tree is composed of a certain kind of matter—mostly wood— and a certain kind of form—the form of a woody vegetative organism that grows upward with a trunk that produces branches above the ground.

Now, destruction comes when a thing loses its form and is replaced by another. A tree loses its form, for instance, and thus ceases to exist, when I cut it down and throw it into the woodchipper. The matter loses the form that was making it the kind of thing it was—namely, a tree—and takes on the form of wood chips. Therefore, if something can lose its form, and be replaced by another form, then it can be destroyed.

But unlike the tree, which can lose its form due to its nature as a matter-form composite, the human soul can’t lose its form and be replaced by another because it is only a form. For a human being, the soul is the form of the body—that which makes the body a human body. Therefore, when the soul separates from the body, it can’t be destroyed by losing its form and being replaced by another.

Since the soul is a form and therefore cannot be taken away from itself, nor can it be replaced with another form, and we know that the human soul can exist without the body, then it follows that the human soul by nature is indestructible.

There is one last way the soul could go out of existence, and that is by way of annihilation. Annihilation is the reduction of something from existence to non-existence, which is an action that can be performed in principle only by God. Annihilation would not be due to anything in the nature of the soul itself, but simply due to God ceasing to will the soul’s existence.

But we know that God won’t do this, since it would violate his wisdom. It would be contrary to God’s wisdom to create a thing with an immortal nature only to thwart that nature. We can even go so far as to say that given that God has created an immortal nature, and given his immutable nature, he cannot annihilate the soul. He is committed to the nature of the thing he creates.

So the human soul is of such a nature that if it exists, it will exist forever. In other words, it’s immortal. And since we have good reason to think that God will not annihilate it, we can conclude that there is existence beyond the grave.

So the soul is not some sort of metaphysical rug under to cover our embarrassment as we flail around to explain Catholic doctrines on life after death. Rather, the immaterial and immortal soul is a metaphysical rock on which we can build an edifice of faith in Jesus’ promise of eternal life in heaven.”

Love & truth,

Where accompaniment fails

“Whatever we call these movements — “social justice,” “wokeness,” “identity politics,” “intersectionality,” “successor ideology” — they claim to offer what religion provides…Pope Francis makes the same point powerfully in Fratelli Tutti: unless we believe that God is our Father, there is no reason for us to treat others as our brothers and sisters.

That is precisely the problem here.

Today’s critical theories and ideologies are profoundly atheistic. They deny the soul, the spiritual, transcendent dimension of human nature; or they think that it is irrelevant to human happiness. They reduce what it means to be human to essentially physical qualities — the color of our skin, our sex, our notions of gender, our ethnic background, or our position in society.

No doubt that we can recognize in these movements certain elements of liberation theology, they seem to be coming from the same Marxist cultural vision. Also, these movements resemble some of the heresies that we find in Church history.

Like the early Manicheans, these movements see the world as a struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Like the Gnostics, they reject creation and the body. They seem to believe that human beings can become whatever we decide to make of ourselves.

These movements are also Pelagian, believing that redemption can be accomplished through our own human efforts, without God.

And as a final point, I would note that these movements are Utopian. They seem to really believe that we can create a kind of “heaven on earth,” a perfectly just society, through our own political efforts.

Again my friends, my point is this: I believe that it is important for the Church to understand and engage these new movements — not on social or political terms, but as dangerous substitutes for true religion…these strictly secular movements are causing new forms of social division, discrimination, intolerance, and injustice…We should not be intimidated by these new religions of social justice and political identity…

Jesus Christ came to announce the new creation, the new man and the new woman, given power to become children of God, renewed in the image of their Creator.

Jesus taught us to know and love God as our Father, and He called His Church to carry that good news to the ends of the earth — to gather, from every race and tribe and people, the one worldwide family of God.

That was the meaning of Pentecost, when men and women from every nation under heaven heard the Gospel in their own native language. That is what St. Paul meant when he said that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free…

The world does not need a new secular religion to replace Christianity. It needs you and me to be better witnesses, better Christians. Let us begin by forgiving, loving, sacrificing for others, putting away spiritual poisons like resentment and envy…

True religion does not seek to harm or humiliate, to ruin livelihoods or reputations. True religion offers a path for even the worst sinners to find redemption.”
-‘Reflections on the Church and America’s New Religions’, Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, Address delivered to, Congress of Catholics and Public Life, Madrid, Spain, November 4, 2021

-by Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky

“Let’s take a look at Jesus’ ministry and see if the modern pastoral doctrine of accompaniment is worthwhile. As the dogmatic precepts of the secular religion take shape, cultural elites try to deflect criticism by presuming the rhetorical high ground. Only a racist and a bigot would object to the allegedly self-evident truths of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” LGBTQ+ replaces morally descriptive words like homosexual, sodomy, perversion, and mutilation. Abortion and genital mutilation are no longer crimes against humanity. They are human rights.

Church leaders—like all of us—fear demonization and isolation, and Catholic moral teaching seems too harsh for modern sensibilities. So priests and bishops scramble to devise innovative strategies in response to these dramatic cultural changes. In recent years, they have introduced the pastoral doctrine of accompaniment.

Accompaniment has benign connotations and downplays divisions. The piano accompanies the singer; the side dish accompanies the main. As a pastoral strategy, the term implies compatibility and complementarity. It also encourages linguistic sugar-coating for “non-judgmental” and “inclusive” gospel proclamation. But how does the strategy compare with the mission of Jesus?

After the Resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples on their journey to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35). The disciples initially do not recognize him. Good Friday devastated their expectations, and Jesus—employing the Socratic Method—instructs them along the way. He explains how the events fulfilled all of the scriptural prophecies. When he joins them at their destination, they recognize him in the breaking of the bread, and he immediately vanishes from their sight. They exclaim: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

The benign components of accompaniment on the road are on display. The disciples are loyal to Jesus but discouraged by the horror of the cross. Jesus engages them in conversation, respectful but teeing up for a teaching moment: “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” The anonymous Jesus pointedly confronts their slothful thinking and hardness of heart. Jesus’ journey with faithful, attentive, and docile disciples on the road is a pastoral success story.

Earlier in his sacred ministry, the Pharisees bring an adulterous woman to Jesus (see John 8:1-11). The Law of Moses requires stoning as the punishment. This time, Jesus is a man of few words. He patiently listens and enigmatically scribbles in the dust. Rising, He responds: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Bending down again, He continues to write (enumerating their sins?), and they all depart, one by one. But Jesus did not save the lady for her to work the streets later in the day. He says to her, “Has no one condemned you?” She replies, “No one, Lord.” Jesus responds, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” Except for the departure of the shamed accusers, the account looks like another successful illustration of pastoral accompaniment.

During his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus reveals Who He is in response to her inquiring mind (see John 4). He promises God’s gift of living water, but he also confronts her adultery: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband.” Instead of discouraging her, the honesty of Jesus inspires her. She concludes that Jesus is a prophet and elevates the conversation to the questions of orthodoxy—“right worship”—and Jesus reveals that He is indeed the Messiah. The lady returns to her village with exuberance. “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

Listening with patience and engaging in conversation are required components of the pastoral strategy of Jesus. But His witness to the truth takes precedence. Before Pilate, Jesus testifies: “For this, I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” (John 18:37). So every gospel proclamation strategy must witness to the truth after the example of Jesus.

Without the goodwill of those He encountered, the fearless honesty of Jesus could have easily derailed the happy outcomes. His confrontations with the Pharisees provide a stark contrast to the success stories (see Luke 11:37-53). Although Jesus recognizes the authority of the Pharisees because they “sit on Moses’ seat,” he pulls no punches in his critique of them. They preach but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens that they will not move and love places of honor, the best seats, and salutations; they are blind guides and hypocrites. Jesus here violates every tenet of accompaniment. Indeed, he often fails to win friends and influence people throughout the gospel because his honesty can be provocative, unsettling, and offensive to hardened hearts.

When we measure it against the ministry of Jesus, we must conclude that the modern pastoral strategy of egalitarian accompaniment—never invoking gospel truths on the hot-button issues—fails. It systemically disguises either fearful complacency (the failure of action in disciplining pro-abortion politicians) or malevolent cooperation with the enemies of Christ (e.g., so-called LGBTQ ministries). The foundational component of the modern strategy of accompaniment is often not the proclamation of the gospel. It is self-preservation and accommodation, hoping the Church’s cultural adversaries will not demonize and isolate Church leaders. Pastoral accompaniment and cultural accommodation have become interchangeable terms.

Such “mutual accompaniment” doesn’t make much sense in the world of music. Even if the piano part is especially elaborate or beautiful, we would never say the singer thus accompanies the piano. Likewise with food: the side dish accompanies the main, not vice versa. Similarly, neglecting the teachings of Christ in favor of “inclusive” and “non-judgmental” accompaniment is incomplete, even dishonest.

In retrospect, the modern doctrine of accompaniment is flawed from its inception. It deviates from Jesus’ program in a fundamental way: instead of accompanying our Lord on the way of the cross, many Church leaders choose to accommodate sinners on sinners’ terms. Hence, the doctrine of pastoral accompaniment and accommodation has replaced the guardrails of orthodoxy with doctrinal ambiguity and error.

There can be no substitute for the truth of the gospel. “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).”

Love & truth,

Luther, Calvin, and Knox worked hard to avoid suffering for their beliefs

-the execution of William Tyndale (194-1536), please click on the image for greater detail

-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“Declaring that “faithful men stand up” and “speak up,” Josh Buice, the founder of G3 Ministries, argues that

we can be certain that Luther, Calvin, Knox, Tyndale and other figures of the Reformation were not making decisions about defending the faith by calculating their career advancement and protecting their platform.

Buice’s message about basing our actions upon faith, rather than political calculation, is a good one, but (with the possible exception of Tyndale, the only one of the four to die for his beliefs), he could hardly have chosen worse examples than these Protestant Reformers.

In a May 30, 1518 letter, Martin Luther wrote to Pope Leo X to insist that he wasn’t rejecting papal authority and that the accusations against him were false:

I know, most holy father, that evil reports are being spread about me, some friends having vilified me to your Holiness, as if I were trying to belittle the power of the keys and of the supreme pontiff, therefore I am being accused of being a heretic, a renegade, and a thousand other ill names are being hurled at me, enough to make my ears tingle and my eyes start in my head, but my one source of confidence is an innocent conscience.

Insisting that these accusations against him are untrue, Luther concludes the letter by promising that “my cause hangs on the will of your Holiness, by whose verdict I shall either save or lose my life. Come what may, I shall recognize the voice of your Holiness to be that of Christ, speaking through you.”

But when Leo decided against Luther in June of 1520, Luther changed his tune. Rather than recognizing the voice of the pope to be that of Christ speaking through Leo, Luther instead denounced the pope as the Antichrist, publishing Against the Execrable Bull of the Antichrist in November of that year. Before taking this step, Luther shrewdly drummed up political support. In the summer of 1520, he wrote an “Address to the Nobility of the German Nation,” playing on German nationalism, and urging the secular authorities to take greater control of the Catholic Church. Unlike his theological writings (which were in Latin), this was written in German. In the letter, Luther rejected the idea “that the temporal power has no jurisdiction over the spirituality” on the grounds that since “the temporal power is baptised as we are, and has the same faith and gospel, we must allow it to be priest and bishop.”

Therefore, he offered a number of suggestions for how secular authority could control the Church, including consolidating or abolishing religious orders like the Dominicans (“Let no more mendicant monasteries be built! God help us! there are too many as it is. Would to God they were all abolished, or at least made over to two or three orders!”); abolishing or tightly controlling the ability of the German faithful to go on pilgrimage to Rome (“Pilgrimages to Rome must be abolished, or at least no one must be allowed to go from his own wish or his own piety, unless his priest, his town magistrate, or his lord has found that there is sufficient reason for his pilgrimage”); and banning of most of the books written by that “blind heathen teacher, Aristotle.” Luther even suggested that “the temporal authorities” should convene their own ecumenical council, and if the pope should resist this secular council, “we must not respect him or his power; and if he should begin to excommunicate and fulminate, we must despise this as the doings of a madman, and, trusting in God, excommunicate and repel him as best we may.”

Protestants are free to make of Luther’s ideas whatever they will, although I suspect that the idea of turning control over the churches to secular authorities no longer sounds as attractive as it did to Luther. My point is simply that between 1518 and 1520, Luther executed a remarkable 180-degree reversal. He pledged fealty to the pope “come what may” when he thought that would benefit his cause, and when it didn’t, he denounced the pope as the Antichrist and pledged support to the worldly authorities instead.

In 1558, John Knox wrote The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women to denounce the Catholic Queen Mary. Knox denied her legitimacy as queen of England, insisting that women “may never rule nor bear empire above man,” because “woman by the law of God, and by the interpretation of the Holy Ghost, is utterly forbidden to occupy the place of God in the offices aforesaid, which he has assigned to man, whom he has appointed and ordained his lieutenant in earth, excluding from that honour and dignity all women.”

But then an awkward thing happened: Mary died, and her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth I became queen. Would Knox continue his principled opposition to female empire? He would not. He quickly wrote to the unhappy queen, addressing her as “the virtuous and godly Elizabeth, by the grace of God, queen of England,” and insisting that nothing in The First Blast “is, nor can be prejudicial to your grace’s just regimen,” a reign for “which most I have thirsted, and for which—as oblivion will suffer—I render thanks unfeignedly unto God.” Elizabeth remained unmoved by Knox’s sycophancy, forbidding him from entering England.

As the nineteenth-century novelist Robert Louis Stevenson points out, John Knox (who wrote his treatise from Geneva) had first approached “his great master, Calvin, in ‘a private conversation,’” in which Calvin admitted his own position that “government of women was a deviation from the original and proper order of nature, to be ranked, no less than slavery, among the punishments consequent upon the fall of man.” Once Elizabeth acceded to the throne and Knox fell out of favor, however, Calvin wrote to her adviser Sir William Cecil to insist that he “had not the slightest suspicion” that Knox was planning to publish a book, and that “it had been published a whole year before [he] was aware of its existence.” To the Swiss Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, however, Calvin admitted that Knox “had talked over these matters with me before he came among you.” This same Calvin critiqued the Church (rightly) for allowing boys as young as ten to become bishops, yet he dedicated two of his biblical commentaries (the Commentary on Isaiah and Commentary on the General Epistles) to the boy-king Edward VI, Elizabeth’s predecessor and elder brother.

This is not to suggest that the Reformers were entirely unprincipled, but it is to suggest that there’s a reason that Tyndale was executed and the other three were not. In an age in which both Catholic and Protestant authorities were willing to violently suppress perceived heresy, men like Tyndale (and, on the Catholic side, St. Thomas More) were willing to die for what they believed. In contrast, Luther, Calvin, and Knox avoided physical suffering in no small part by ingratiating themselves to the politically powerful, even at the cost of some of their own inconvenient principles.”

Love & truth,

Nov 15 – St Albert the Great, OP (1206-1280) – Light of Science, Light of Religion

In a 1988 letter to the Rev. George V. Coyne, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory, His Holiness Pope St John Paul II wrote, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.” 

The Gold Mass, which follows in the tradition of special Masses for members of different professions, was selected because gold is the color of the hoods worn by individuals graduating with a Ph.D. in science. It is also the color associated with the patron saint of scientists St. Albert the Great.

The first Gold Mass for scientists and engineers was held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Nov. 15, 2016.

-by Kevin Vost, Psy. D.

The proper roles and relative importance of faith and reason have been pondered and argued across the centuries. In our day, the debate is often cast in the form of religion (faith) and science (reason), with an underlying assumption that the issue boils down to religion versus science, and we really need to take sides, either clinging to outdated “religious superstition” or progressing with the times to “follow the science.”

Pope St. John Paul summed up the extremes of this false dichotomy in his encyclical Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) in 1998 using the terms fideism (from the Latin fides for faith) and scientism. Fideism, embodied by some of our Protestant brethren, “fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God” (50). We see this most commonly in Biblicism, which makes the Bible “the sole criterion of truth.” Scientism, embodied by many modern atheists and agnostics, is “the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical, and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy” (88).

John Paul knew well that St. Thomas Aquinas made clear in the thirteenth century, as he put it in the Summa Contra Gentiles, that “there exists a twofold truth concerning the divine being.” One kind of truth is accessible through reason, and the other is obtained through God’s direct revelation. Indeed, one nice metaphor casts such truths as written in two books—the book of nature and the book of Scripture. John Paul provided a particularly beautiful and relevant metaphor: “faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

Today, we celebrate the feast of one of the people who flew the highest upon both wings—all the way to heaven. Albert of Cologne (c.1200-1280) is perhaps best known today as the teacher and mentor of Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, as Thomas has become the patron saint of scholars, Albert is the patron saint of scientists. (Seems they both did a fair job of choosing faith and reason.)

Though he is overshadowed by the towering figure of his mighty student, Albert was known as Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great), even while he was alive on earth. So why was he so great? Because he read so well the books of Scripture, like many great Church Doctors before him, and because he read the book of nature like none before him and few since! He also wrote many books of his own, and both different kinds of books.

Albert was called the Great due to his incredible breadth of knowledge and mastery of virtually every scientific discipline known to man at the time—from A to Z, with contributions to fields as diverse as anatomy, anthropology, astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, dentistry, geography, geology, medicine, physiology, physics, psychology, and zoology. Some people in his day said you could completely repopulate the forests and rivers of Bavaria with all the plants and animals he had written about. Some said Albert knew all there was to know!

Working without any modern instruments, two hundred years before the printing press, and in the midst of a variety of roles throughout his lifetime, including professor at the University of Paris, bishop of Cologne, and Dominican provincial of Germany, here are some of Albert’s scientific accomplishments:

  • He isolated arsenic.
  • He provided the first description in Western writing of the spinach plant (surely becoming the favorite Church Doctor of Popeye the Sailor Man.)
  • He did early work in the theory of protective coloration of animals—including predicting that animals in the extreme north would have white coloring.
  • He determined that the Milky Way is a huge assemblage of stars.
  • He determined that the figures visible on the moon were not reflections of the earth’s mountains and seas, but features of the moon’s own surface.
  • He predicted land masses at the earth’s poles.
  • He predicted a large land mass to the west of Europe (and a copy of his prediction has been found in the personal library of Christopher Columbus).
  • He determined, with the use of mathematical formulae, that the earth was spherical.
  • He integrated the theories of Aristotle on the nature of human memory with the literature on practical improvement of memory that came down through Cicero.

So Albert clearly was no slouch on the science side of the ledger. As for religion, Albert also wrote many treatises of biblical commentary and was said to be perhaps the most prolific Mariologist of the thirteenth century. Indeed, when Pope Pius XII declared the dogma of the Assumption of Mary on November 1, 1950, he cited Albert as a key champion of the Assumption, having gathered the arguments from Scripture and the Church Fathers to conclude that the Mother of God had indeed been assumed body and soul into heaven.

Though Albert’s greatest student, the Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas, was as calm and placid as they come, our great Albert could get testy at times, but only because he so cherished the truth. Later in his life, he would speak out with strong words against those opposed to acquiring human knowledge, the fideists of his day: “There are those ignorant people who wish to combat by every means possible the use of philosophy, and especially among the preachers, where no one opposes them; senseless animals who blaspheme that of which they know nothing.”

Albert loved science and philosophy because he loved God. He knew well that the book of Scripture guides us to the book of nature, and vice versa: “For the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their creator” (Wis. 13:5). Albert never looked at or wrote about a plant, an animal, or even a star without glorying in the fact that each is a creature, reflecting in its own way the beauty and perfection of its creator. That is why the whole world was theology to him.

St. Albert the Great, pray for us, that we may grow in faith and reason, in religion and in science.”

Love & truth,

Praying w/non-Catholics

-please click on the image for greater detail

-by Trent Horn

“One criticism of the second Vatican Council is that it contradicts previous magisterial teaching on the question of praying with non-Catholics. For example, the Council document Unitatis Redintegratio says: “In certain circumstances, such as prayers ‘for unity’ and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated brethren” (8). But in the encyclical Mortalium Animos, written almost forty years earlier, Pope Pius XI said,

It is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics: for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it (10).

The key to resolving this discrepancy is to distinguish between active communion and passive communion. The former is an illicit form of worship or behavior that directly imitates worship. It is scandalous because it involves praying the distinctive prayers of another religion as if one were professing allegiance to that faith. That is something Catholics cannot do as a matter of divine law, which no Church directive could ever change.

So we can’t pray with non-Catholics in this active sense . . . but we can pray with non-Catholics in the sense of praying “in their presence.” This is the licit kind of passive communion that Catholics and non-Catholics can share. This kind of distinction can be seen in the writings of St. Alphonsus Liguori, who said, “It is not permitted to be present at the sacred rites of infidels and heretics in such a way that you would be judged to be in communion with them” (Theologia Moralis).

Notice that Liguori adds the qualifier about in such a way, that would intimate being in communion in a false theology, and not mere proximity.

Moreover, when we examine the historical context of the pre-Vatican II discussion on “praying with non-Catholics,” we can see that the directives were not meant to be universal condemnations of any association with non-Catholics in a religious context. For example, in Mortalium Animos, Pius XI criticized believers for calling themselves pan-Christians, arguing for all believers to be united into one invisible Church. This contradicts the fact that Christ established one visible Church with an authoritative hierarchy. But the pope was interested in finding ways to restore unity between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. In his book Ecumenical Associations, James Oliver writes:

Much was done by Pius XI for better relations between the Oriental and Latin Churches. The study of the culture, practices and beliefs of the Orientals was very important to him. . . . [The pope] urged the cardinals to work for unity with the East. In an allocution delivered to the Italian University Catholic Federation on January 10, 1927, Pius XI said that most necessary to reunion is for people to know one another and to love one another. He recognized this call as one that would be shared in the relations with those separated during the Reformation (pp. 32-33).

Oliver goes on to say of Mortalium Animos that the pope “both welcomed the separated brethren and clearly stated what was and was not possible for Catholics regarding dialogue with non-Catholic Christians concerning theological differences and unity.”

In 1949, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith likewise released a document on ecumenism that outlined when it was and wasn’t appropriate, so this isn’t some radical, post-Vatican II development. Here’s a part of the instruction:

The previous permission of the Holy See, special for each case, is always required; and in the petition asking for it, it must also be stated what are the questions to be treated and who the speakers are to be. . . . Although in all these meetings and conferences any communication whatsoever in worship must be avoided, yet the recitation in common of the Lord’s Prayer or of some prayer approved by the Catholic Church, is not forbidden for opening or closing the said meetings.

It is true divine law that prohibits active participation in non-Catholic rituals . . . and Vatican II’s declaration on ecumenism does not instruct believers to do that. It says: “Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice” (8).

The “common worship” being spoken of here should be understood as an endorsement of passive communion where attendees pray next to each other or share in a common, authorized prayer like the Our Father. Nothing in the Second Vatican Council contradicts earlier teachings that forbid Catholics from actively taking part in the unique aspects of non-Catholic worship services.”

Love & truth,


-the burning of the pantheistic Amalrician heretics in 1210, in the presence of King Philip II Augustus. In the background is the Gibbet of Montfaucon and, anachronistically, the Grosse Tour of the Temple fortress. Illumination from the Grandes Chroniques de France, c. AD 1455–1460. Please click on the image for greater detail.

Obsequium religiosum is a Latin phrase meaning religious submission or religious assent, particularly in the theology of the Catholic Church.

The Latin term is used in the Latin original document Lumen gentium of the Second Vatican Council regarding the duty of the faithful to give obsequium religiosum (Latin for “religious submission”) of will and intellect to certain teachings of the Magisterium of the Church. The Magisterium is a reference to the authoritative teaching body of the Roman Catholic Church.

The phrase appears in Lumen gentium 25a in the following context, here translated as both “religious assent” and “religious submission”:

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

The magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church are graded according to a “hierarchy of truths”. The more essentially linked a proposed “truth” is to the mystery of Christ (the “Truth”), the greater the assent of the will to that truth must be. The document Donum Veritatis[1] teaches the following concerning this gradation of assent:

When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely revealed.

When the Magisterium proposes “in a definitive way” truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held.

When the Magisterium, not intending to act “definitively”, teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect. This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.

In its next section, Donum Veritatis states that “some judgments of the Magisterium could be justified at the time in which they were made, … (but) only time has permitted discernment and, after deeper study, the attainment of true doctrinal progress”.

The document, ″Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio fidei[2] (scroll down to find document), gives a detailed description of these three “categories” of truths and gives examples of each.

Withholding assent

Donum Veritatis also allows that, “When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies.” However “it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church’s Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments.”

It acknowledges that a given theologian, “might have serious difficulties, for reasons which appear to him well founded, in accepting a non-irreformable magisterial teaching.” In such a case “even if the doctrine of the faith is not in question, the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions,” and is to “refrain from giving untimely public expression to them,” and “avoid turning to the mass media,” but with a humble and teachable spirit it is his duty “to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented,” with “an intense and patient reflection on his part and a readiness, if need be, to revise his own opinions and examine the objections which his colleagues might offer him”, prayerfully trusting “that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail.”

In so doing it makes a distinction between dissent as in public opposition to the Magisterium of the Church and the situation of conscientious personal difficulties with teaching, and asserts that the Church “has always held that nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will,” while the Virgin Mary’s “immediate and unhesitating assent of faith to the Word of God” is set forth as the example to follow in submitting to Catholic teaching.

While the theologian, like every believer, must follow his conscience, and Joseph Ratzinger (as a priest-theologian) taught that “over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else,” it is not “an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a doctrine,” and the Catholic is obliged to form it according to Catholic teaching.

-by Br Linus Martz, OP

“The Church has always identified a variety of acts as sins, including heresy. A sin in the fullest sense (that is, a grave sin), is any choice that cannot co-exist with Christian love; a serious sin is incompatible with our share in the life of God. Even apart from this supernatural perspective, many outside the Church might still agree that some sins exist. But what about heresy? How could holding wrong beliefs about God be harmful, let alone sinful? Why does the Church continue to teach that real heresy is a real sin, and a serious sin at that? Heresy is an unhappy topic, but considering it abstractly will help us see more concretely the divine origin of true faith.

Heresy, according to the Code of Canon Law, is “the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith” (CIC can. 751; cf. CCC 2089). The very name “heresy” implies a “choosing,” and a baptized believer falls into heresy when he consciously, knowingly, and obstinately chooses to reject a revealed truth (ST II-II, q. 11, a. 1). Whenever it occurs, this choice wounds the soul deeply.

Heretical choice—that is, choosing to believe what one knows contradicts faith—wounds the soul because it radically separates the chooser from God. It forsakes the firm, familiar knowledge of God that faith provides. This happens because when one rejects faith, even faith in a single doctrine, he destroys faith completely.

Why does heresy do this? Why can’t we have faith in just part of revelation? Faith is “faith” when someone believes something because God himself, “First Truth,” has revealed it. When God speaks to us through the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church, his own Truthfulness is the “mean” of faith, the source of our knowledge (ST II-II, q. 5, a. 3). It is the cause or the reason why we believe something. But someone who knowingly disbelieves something God has revealed leaves behind this “mean” of faith. One no longer believes something because God has revealed it if he disbelieves anything that he knows God has revealed. Because God cannot lie, to reject what he says about one truth is to reject his truthfulness completely.

To reject one revealed teaching, such as the reality of original sin or the Real Presence, is to substitute human choice for divine authority. But divine authority is the only sound basis for our faith, so whatever truth the heretic retains apart from God he holds without a good reason.

Saint Paul, after warning Saint Timothy about some teachers in Ephesus who were teaching a “different doctrine,” gives us the image of a “shipwreck” of faith (1 Tim 1:3, 19). One breach in the hull will compromise the whole ship’s integrity. So too, a faith that assents and dissents according to personal preference is not faith at all: by definition, heresy sinks the ship of faith and leaves only human opinions.

…We hold the truths that we profess in the Creed only because God has spoken. Human arguments can never replace God’s self-revelation because, left to ourselves, we cannot bridge the span of heaven and touch God’s throne. To conflate faith and reason, therefore, is to sail on dangerous waters. To replace faith with reason is to sink the ship of faith.

God’s mercy and grace can touch the most hardened of sinners, and he can easily repair even the shipwreck of faith through the “second plank” of sacramental Confession. But the faith God infuses and restores isn’t primarily about choosing to believe this or that fact. It’s an assent, through these propositions, to God in Jesus Christ. It’s a choice to believe God. Our life in faith cannot be lived if we choose half-portions. Rather, taking our cue from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, we approach the banquet of Wisdom and choose all, because we choose Jesus, in whom “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is given to us (2 Cor 4:6).”


The Magical, Amazing, Self-Reading, Self-Interpreting Bible!!!

“Owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally.” – St Vincent of Lérins (d. c.445), Commonitory; 2, 5-6.

-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“One of the most dangerous ideas of the Protestant Reformation is that Scripture is somehow self-interpreting. According to this view, Scripture is so clear that we don’t need an infallible Catholic Church. The idea originates with Luther, but Protestants often believe it’s something taught by Scripture itself. Professor John Gerstner (1914-1996) argued in favor of this view against Catholicism by saying:

First, Rome denies that the Bible is a self-interpreting revelation. The Bible declares itself to be self-explanatory. This is called the doctrine of the perspicuity of the Scriptures (the see-through-ableness of the Scripture). It may be understood in its own light. What is obscure in one passage will be clearer in another. What is incomplete here is completed there. What is a figure in one place is a commentary in another.

The claim that the Bible is “self-interpreting revelation” is not only unbiblical, but incoherent, like saying “the book reads itself.” Someone interprets the Bible. He may do that infallibly or fallibly, well or poorly, but the text doesn’t interpret itself.

We see this in action within Scripture. Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30). At St. Peter’s request, he then explains the parable’s meaning (vv. 36-43). The parable didn’t explain itself: Jesus explained it. Likewise, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus walks with two of his disciples and, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). St. Luke doesn’t say Scripture interpreted itself to the disciples. Jesus interpreted it.

Likewise, St. Philip was led by the Holy Spirit to an Ethiopian eunuch. “So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless some one guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:30-31). Notably, the man didn’t reply, “Of course I understand it! The book of Isaiah is self-interpreting.” Instead, someone (this time, Philip) explained its meaning.

This is the role of the Church, but it’s also the role of the theologian and the preacher. St. Paul tells St. Timothy to “attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:11). That is, he’s called to read Scripture and then to explain what it means, just as Jesus did in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-22).

So where does the Bible ever “declare itself to be self-explanatory,” or promise that “what is a figure in one place is a commentary in another”? Gerstner offers no citation for the simple reason that none exists. Even the idea that “what is obscure in one passage will be clearer in another” is question-begging, since Christians don’t agree about which passages are clear and which are obscure. As the Calvinist historian Alister McGrath explains:

Luther and Zwingli were unable to agree on the meaning of such phrases as “this is my body” (which Luther interpreted literally and Zwingli metaphorically) and “at the right hand of God” (which—with apparent inconsistency on both sides—Luther interpreted metaphorically and Zwingli literally). The exegetical optimism of the early Reformation may be regarded as foundering on this rock: Scripture, it seemed, was far from easy to interpret.

In response to the Catholic observation that Scripture needs interpretation, Gerstner says:

If the Bible must be interpreted by the Church in order to render its meaning certain, then the interpretation of the Church will have to be interpreted by another authority to make its meaning certain, and then there will need to be an interpreter of the interpreter, and so on ad infinitum.

If this were true, it would mean that no one could ever explain anything. That is, Gerstner isn’t so much arguing against Catholicism as he is arguing against communication and knowledge of the truth in general. If his argument were true, it would prove agnosticism, not Protestantism.

It’s also logically unsound. Certain passages of the Bible admit of multiple interpretations: they could mean A or B. If the Church clarifies, “It means A and not B,” that clarification doesn’t necessitate some further clarification—the argument simply doesn’t follow. If the Ethiopian needs Philip to explain Isaiah, it doesn’t follow that he must also need someone else to explain Philip, and so on ad infinitum.

But Gerstner gives his whole argument away immediately after this:

Our various Protestant church courts actually provide authoritative interpretations on most points when such decisions are necessary. But there is a difference between authoritative and infallible decisions. Compare, for example, the necessity for an authoritative interpretation of the Constitution. A Supreme Court performs that task. Yet what American believes the Supreme Court is infallible? Still, its decisions prevail as a matter of necessity. . . .

The Protestant church has provided for authority so that decisions can be rendered when necessary, but has avoided the error of investing this authority with infallibility. The Protestant church, not being infallible, can err, has erred, will err. There is one error, however, which it has not made and that is the greatest of them all—the error of thinking it cannot err.

So Gerstner actually recognizes the need for the Church to provide authoritative interpretations “when necessary.” The difference is simply that Protestant churches’ decisions can’t be trusted, because we don’t know if they’re erroneous, and they can err, have erred, and will err.

This is a remarkable concession for a few reasons. First, if Scripture is as clear and self-interpreting as Gerstner is claiming, why aren’t the Protestant teachings clear? How is it that there’s more than one Protestant denomination, and why isn’t each denomination sure that its own interpretation of Scripture is the right one? In one and the same argument, Gerstner is arguing that Scripture is so clear that there’s no need for an infallible Church to interpret it, but also that it’s so unclear that Protestants can’t escape from continually erring in interpreting it, and that the greatest error possible is thinking that we cannot err in our interpretation.

Second, the stakes here are higher than with the Supreme Court. The Constitution isn’t divinely inspired; Scripture is. If a denomination gets its “authoritative interpretation” wrong, it’s forcing its members to either go into schism or accept heresy, both of which are condemned in the New Testament. But since the “various Protestant church courts actually provide authoritative interpretations” that contradict one another and cannot be trusted as free from error, that’s precisely what Protestantism has to offer.

The fact that well-meaning and well read Protestants disagree with one another on the meaning of biblical passages should suffice to prove that Scripture isn’t self-interpreting. The fact that God gave us Scripture “to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15) should make Protestants care enough to find a Church capable of reliably interpreting what Scripture means without the constant danger that they might be endorsing heresy.”

Love & truth,

Explaining Purgatory

Saint Lawrence Liberates Souls from Purgatory, Lorenzo di Niccolò, ca. 1412, Tempera and tooled gold on poplar panel, 13 5/16 x 26 5/8 in. (33.8 x 67.6 cm)Frame: 16 x 26 5/8 in. (40.6 x 67.6 cm), Brooklyn Museum, please click on the image for greater detail

-lighter tone

-by Karlo Broussard

“When it comes to the most misunderstood doctrines of the Catholic Church, purgatory probably ranks at the top. Often, these misunderstandings are manifested in what everyday folks say about purgatory.

Let’s consider some of these catchphrases here.

“If I don’t get a chance to turn my life around for the Lord here on earth, I’ll just do it when I’m in purgatory.”

This saying exposes perhaps the greatest myth about purgatory: that it’s a second chance for salvation. At least for the Catholic Church, purgatory is only for those who, in the words of the Catechism (CCC), “die in God’s grace and friendship” (1030). The Catechism goes on to affirm that such people are “assured of their eternal salvation.”

The Bible supports this view of purgatory. Consider, for example, Hebrews 9:27: “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 confirms the idea that the judgment immediately following death (the particular judgment—CCC 1022) secures one’s eternal destiny.

We’re told that Lazarus died and then “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (v.22). After the rich man’s death, he found himself “in Hades, being in torment” (v.23). That their destinies were secure is indicated what Abraham tells the rich man, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’” (v.26).

Since the Bible reveals that a soul’s ultimate destiny is secure immediately after death, whether heaven or hell, it follows that the ultimate destiny of every soul in purgatory is secure. And since the Catholic Church teaches that the destiny of every soul in purgatory is heaven (they died in God’s grace and friendship), it follows that every soul in purgatory is secure with respect to his salvation. Purgatory, therefore, is not a place for second chances.

“There’s no point praying for souls in purgatory because they’re all going to heaven anyway.”

Although it’s true that the souls in purgatory will eventually enter heaven, that doesn’t mean there’s no point in praying for them. There are several reasons why we should pray for the faithful departed.

First, it expresses love for them. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that love is “to wish good to someone” (Summa Theologiae I-II:26:4). The possession of God in the beatific vision, which is temporally delayed for the holy souls, is the greatest good for the souls in purgatory (it’s the greatest good for us all). As such, anything we do to help them achieve that good, like praying for them, is an expression of our love.

This expression of love for the holy souls in turn brings us consolation, which makes for a second reason to pray for them.

Aquinas teaches that love is not only “to wish good to someone,” but also to wish it “just as he wills good to himself” (ST I-II:28:1). It follows from this definition of love that the good the souls in purgatory experience by having their impediments to heaven removed is experienced as our own good. That means that their consolation is our consolation; their source of joy is our source of joy. As the late Frank Sheed writes, “there is a special joy for the Catholic in praying for his dead, if only the feeling that there is still something he can do for people he loved upon earth.”

A third reason to pray for the holy souls is that our prayer for them makes their prayer for us more effective. The Catechism teaches, “Our prayer for them [souls in purgatory] is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (958).

The rationale here is that the holier a person is (the less sin or remnants of sin a person has), the more effective his prayers are. St. James writes, “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16). Since the souls in purgatory are made holier (more righteous) as we pray for them, it follows that as we pray for them, their prayers for us become more effective.

“We’re not good enough for heaven, so we should content ourselves to hope for purgatory.”

This statement assumes that no one can bypass purgatory. But that’s not true, according to Catholic teaching. In paragraph 1472, the Catechism teaches, “A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.”

The rationale behind this is that when a soul turns to God in conversion, the detestation of sin and love of God can create a sorrow for sin so intense that it suffices as the pain due the soul for the pleasure taken in the sin, thus discharging any remaining debt of temporal punishment. Also, love for God could be so intense that it suffices to purify the soul of any unhealthy attachments to created goods and remit any guilt of venial sin.

Being content to hope for purgatory is not a proper Catholic perspective. Purgatory is not our final destination; heaven is. As such, Christians should strive to attain that degree of holiness such that upon death, we can immediately enter heaven. Like St. Paul, we should desire to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

True Christian hope doesn’t entail a desire to be delayed in attaining our ultimate goal. It entails the desire to attain it without delay. So every Christian should desire to bypass purgatory. It’s that desire that inspires us to order our lives more and more toward union with God in heaven. This is the way of holiness. Sirach 7:36 says, “In all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin.”

“Purgatory’s not that bad.”

It’s true that it might not be that bad for all. It’s also true that purgatory consists of great joys—joys that far exceed what we can experience in this life. The Italian mystic St. Catherine of Genoa writes, “I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in purgatory except that of the saints in paradise.”

However, the purgatorial visions of a fourteenth-century saint, St. Bridget of Sweden (as well as others), suggest that purgatory can be an intense experience of suffering, at least for some. These visions are recorded in Book 6 of her revelations.

Bridget records how she was transported to purgatory. There she saw a highborn woman who had lived a life of luxury and vanities of the world.

“Happily,” she told Bridget, “before death I confessed my sins in such dispositions as to escape hell, but now I suffer here to expiate the worldly life that my mother did not prevent me from leading.”

The soul continued with a sigh, “Alas! This head, which loved to be adorned, and which sought to draw the attention of others, is now devoured with flames within and without, and these flames are so violent that every moment it seems to me that I must die.”

The soul went on:

These shoulders, these arms, which I loved to see admired, are cruelly bound in chains of red-hot iron. These feet, formerly trained for the dance, are now surrounded with vipers that tear them with their fangs and soil them with their filthy slime; all these members which I have adorned with jewels, flowers, and divers other ornaments, are now a prey to the most horrible torture.

All the same, the soul rejoiced in God’s mercy for not damning her.

Such torments for worldly vanities ought to give us reason to re-think our attachments to worldly goods, especially physical beauty.

It also gives us reason to take purgatory seriously—not as a place to give seeking salvation another go, or the only place we can expect to get to, or a place where our departed loved ones don’t need us anymore . . . but a realm of purification, given to us by a merciful God who exhausts every avenue to see us happy with him in heaven.”

Love, pray for the holy souls in Purgatory,