Category Archives: Apologetics

The Heresy of Monism – Centering Prayer


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

“The “centering prayer” movement is a relatively new phenomenon in the Church, but it has become remarkably widespread. In some areas of the U.S., for example, you will find centering prayer meetings almost as common as rosary prayer groups or Bible studies.

Notwithstanding its acceptance in some quarters, however, at its core it is incompatible with Catholic teaching for at least three reasons, among others we could consider.

First, centering prayer has as a constitutive element a monistic view of God in relation to man. Monism is the belief that there is no essential distinction between the creature and the creator.

Fr. Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk who helped found the centering prayer movement in the 1970s, gives us what could be considered a textbook definition of monism when he describes in his own words what he calls “the spiritual journey.”

In this video, Fr. Keating says the essence of the spiritual life can be summed up in these three steps:

“The realization… that there is an Other, capital O.”
“To try to become the Other, still capital O.”
“The realization that there is no Other. You and the Other are one… always have been, always will be. You just think that you aren’t.”
The central problem with this “third step” can hardly be overstated. It is monism, plain and simple. Fr. Keating is not speaking of theosis, of Christians being made “partakers of the divine nature” through union with Jesus Christ, as we find revealed in 2 Peter 1:3-4. He is talking about the realization that there is no individual at all. There is only “the Other,” or God.

Now, some will object that in the first two steps, Fr. Keating acknowledges that “there is an Other” distinct from the self. And he will often present similar words in varying contexts. In fact, in what has become his manifesto on centering prayer, Open Heart, Open Mind, Fr. Keating provides:

“God and our true self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true self are the same thing.”

Notice the seeming contradiction? Just as in his video, Fr. Keating will seemingly declare plainly that there is an “Other” that is not us, but he will then say there “is no other” at all. Seems contradictory, but it’s really not. As long as we have not attained full union with God, there will be a “false self” that “thinks” it is distinct. But when we do fully attain union, all thought of self or anything other than the Absolute Being who is beyond any and all labels or “names” will be annihilated. All that remains will be the truth of the absolute “One.”

Vatican Council I rejected Fr. Keating’s monistic view, declaring in Session Three, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter 1, par. 2:

“Since He is one, singular, completely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, He must be declared to be in reality and in essence, distinct from the world, supremely happy in Himself and from Himself, and inexpressibly loftier than anything besides Himself which either exists or can be imagined.”

The council then declared infallibly in canon 3 of On God the Creator of all Things:

“If anyone says that the substance or essence of God and that of all things are one and the same: let him be anathema.”

Moreover, in canon 5:

“If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God… let him be anathema.”

The idea that the self and God are the same thing should eliminate centering prayer as an option for Catholics. But there is a second reason why centering prayer is incompatible with Catholic teaching: it says that the ultimate goal of the spiritual life is the “realization” that we are God.

In his book Open Mind, Open Heart, Fr. Keating tells us, “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from him” (33). This is false.

A scrupulous person, for example, may think he is separated from God and not be. More importantly, Sacred Scripture makes it quite clear what separates us from God. Isaiah tells us that “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you” (Isaiah 59:2; see also Psalm 66:18; I John 1:8-9, etc.) The Catechism concurs:

“God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end (1037).”

“To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell” (1033).”

Sin separates us from God—nothing else. But Fr. Keating says we are really never separated from God to begin with; we only “think we are.” Thus, the spiritual life is not a matter of conversion in order to become something you are not, namely, a saint in union with God. Rather, it is simply to “realize” what you always have been and always will be: God.

And this leads us to the third essential problem with centering prayer: it is outside of Catholic orthopraxy. In fact, centering prayer is not really prayer at all.

For Fr. Keating, prayer is a “journey to the true self”—the realization that we are God. And the key for this realization to occur is for the Christian to empty himself of all rational activity. He must make his mind an absolute void.

In Open Mind, Open Heart, we discover the essence of this “prayer”:

“If you are aware of no thoughts, you are aware of something and that is a thought. If at that point you can lose the awareness that you are aware of no thoughts, you will move into pure consciousness. In that state there is no consciousness of self. . . . This is what divine union is. There is no reflection of self. . . . So long as you feel united with God, it cannot be full union. So long as there is a thought, it is not full union (73-74).”

This emptying of all thought even includes thoughts of God, the word of God, and the mysteries of our redemption. Good or evil, beautiful or ugly, all thoughts must go. There is a saying in the centering prayer movement that says “ten thousand thoughts represent ten thousand opportunities to return to God,” because thought is believed to separate us from God.

A question you might be asking: “How could Christianity get mixed up with something like this?” The answer can be found just three paragraphs down from the above section of Fr. Keating’s book:

“Centering prayer is an exercise in letting go. That is all it is. It lays aside every thought. One touch of divine love enables you to take all the pleasures of the world and throw them in the wastebasket. Reflecting on spiritual communications diminishes them. The Diamond Sutra says it all: “Try to develop a mind that does not cling to anything.””

The Diamond Sutra is Buddhist, folks. The goals of centering prayer—no intellectual activity . . . no concepts . . . no words—are Buddhist. Far from the traditional Catholic understanding of prayer as a heart-to-heart dialogue or communication of the creature with his Creator, centering prayer is focused inward, with the goal of eliminating all thoughts or even thoughts of thoughts until one reaches a state where the mind is an absolute void and there is no knowledge of self or thought at all.

The Catechism expressly declares of this type of “prayer” to be erroneous:

“In the battle of prayer, we must face in ourselves and around us erroneous notions of prayer. Some people view prayer . . . as an effort of concentration to reach a mental void (2726).”

The Catholic Christian faith is a religion of the word. To advocate movement away from the word is to advocate movement away from the Word made flesh. This is antithetical to true Catholic Christian prayer. Even though she was a great mystic, St. Teresa of Avila emphasized the essential role of the word of God and the mind in prayer: “For it to be prayer at all, the mind must take part in it” (Interior Castle, Part I, i). Pope St. John Paul II, in a homily of November 1, 1982, added:

“[St. Teresa’s teaching] is valid even in our day, against some methods of prayer which are not inspired by the gospel and which in practice tend to set Christ aside in the preference for a mental void which makes no sense in Christianity. Any method of prayer is valid insofar as it is inspired by Christ and leads to Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (cf. John 14:6).”

The intellect and will are essential to man’s nature. We can no more detach ourselves from them than we can detach ourselves from being human. Indeed, apart from the functioning of the human intellect and will, there can be no love. And we all know Jesus gave us the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

How radically different is authentic contemplative prayer from the mindless “centering prayer.” The Catechism, in paragraphs 2709-2719, says it all for Catholics. I will cite just two paragraphs here:

“Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. . . . Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him (cf. St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 104).

Contemplative prayer is hearing the Word of God. Far from being passive, such attentiveness is the obedience of faith. . . . It participates in the “Yes” of the Son . . . and the Fiat of God’s lowly handmaid (2715-16).””

Love & truth,
Matthew

The New Paganism – Fr Joseph Ratzinger (1958)

“According to religious statistics, old Europe is still a part of the earth that is almost completely Christian. But there is hardly another case in which everyone knows as well as they do here that the statistic is false: This so-called Christian Europe for almost four hundred years has become the birthplace of a new paganism, which is growing steadily in the heart of the Church, and threatens to undermine her from within. The outward shape of the modern Church is determined essentially by the fact that, in a totally new way, she has become the Church of pagans, and is constantly becoming even more so. She is no longer, as she once was, a Church composed of pagans who have become Christians, but a Church of pagans, who still call themselves Christians, but actually have become pagans. Paganism resides today in the Church herself, and precisely that is the characteristic of the Church of our day, and that of the new paganism, so that it is a matter of a paganism in the Church, and of a Church in whose heart paganism is living.

Therefore, in this connection, one should not speak about the paganism, which in eastern atheism has already become a strong enemy against the Church, and as a new anti-christian power opposes the community of believers. Yet, when concerning this movement, one should not forget that it has its peculiarity in the fact that it is a new paganism, and therefore, a paganism that was born in the Church, and has borrowed from her the essential elements that definitely determine its outward form and its power. One should speak rather about the much more characteristic phenomenon of our time, which determines the real attack against the Christian, from the paganism within the Church herself, from the “desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be” (Mk 13:14).

The fact that today, even given an optimistic evaluation, certainly more than half of the Catholics (here we are considering only our Church) no longer “practice” their faith, should not be explained clearly in the sense that this large number of non-practicing Catholics should simply be called pagans. It is still evident that they no longer simply embrace the faith of the Church, but that they make a very subjective choice from the creed of the Church in order to shape their own world view. And there can be no doubt that most of them, from the Christian point of view, should really no longer be called believers, but that they follow, more or less, a secular philosophy.

They do indeed affirm the moral responsibility of man, but it is based on, and limited by, purely rational considerations. The ethics of N. Hartmanns, K. Jaspers, and M. Heidegger, for example, defend the more or less known convictions of many morally upright men, but they are in no sense Christians. The well-known little book published by the List-Verlag (a German publishing house — Editor’s note) entitled, What Do You Think About Christianity? can open the eyes of anyone, who has allowed himself to be deceived by the Christian façade of our contemporary public image, to the realization of how far and wide such purely rational and irreligious morality has spread. Therefore, the modern man today, when he meets someone else anywhere, can assume with some certainty that he has a baptismal certificate, but not that he has a Christian frame of mind. Therefore, he must presume as the normal state of affairs the lack of faith of his neighbor. This fact has two important consequences: On the one hand, it includes a fundamental change in the structure of the Church; and, on the other hand, it has produced an essential change of consciousness on the side of the still-believing Christians. These two phenomena will be clarified in greater detail in this lecture.

When the Church had her beginning, it rested on the spiritual decision of the individual person to believe, on the act of conversion. If one at the beginning had hoped that a community of saints would be built here on earth out of the converts, “a Church without spot or wrinkle,” then in the midst of difficulties, one must come more and more to the realization that also the convert, the Christian, remains a sinner, and that even the greatest sins could possibly take place in the Christian community. In four hundred years of conflict with “heretics” [Cathari!] the Church has had abundant knowledge about this. But if, accordingly, the Christian was not a morally perfect person, and in this sense the community of the saints always remained imperfect, still there was a fundamental agreement according to which Christians were distinguished from non-Christians, namely, faith in the grace of God which was revealed in Christ.

The Church was a community of believers, of men who had adopted a definite spiritual choice, and because of that, they distinguished themselves from all those who refused to make this choice. In the common possession of this decision, and its conviction, the true and living community of the faithful was founded, and also its certainty; and because of this, as the community of those in the state of grace, they knew that they were separated from those who closed themselves off from grace. Already in the Middle Ages, this was changed by the fact that the Church and the world were identical, and so to be a Christian fundamentally no longer meant that a person made his own decision about the faith, but it was already a political-cultural presupposition. A man contented himself with the thought that God had chosen this part of the world for himself; the Christian’s self-consciousness was at the same time a political-cultural awareness of being among the elect: God had chosen this Western world. Today, this outward identity of Church and world has remained; but the conviction that in this, that is, in the unchosen belonging to the Church, also that a certain divine favor, a heavenly redemption lies hidden, has disappeared.

The Church is like the world, a datum of our specifically Western existence, and indeed, like the definite world to which we belong, a very contingent reality. Almost no one believes seriously that eternal salvation can depend on this very contingent, cultural and political reality that we call the “Church.” For the Westerner, the Church is, for the most part, nothing more than a very accidental part of the world; through her externally remaining identity with the world, she has lost the seriousness of her claim. So it is understandable that, today, often the question will be asked very urgently whether or not the Church should again be turned into a community of conviction, in order to confer on her again her great gravity. That would mean that she rigidly abandons the still present worldly positions, in order to get rid of an apparent possession, which shows itself to be more and more dangerous, because it stands in the way of the truth.

For some time now, this question has been eagerly discussed especially in France, where the decline of a Christian conviction has progressed more than it has among us, and so the contrast between appearance and reality is felt to be much stronger. But naturally the problem is the same among us. There, the supporters of a more strict direction stand in opposition to those of a more accommodating position. The former emphasize the necessity of, once again, giving their full weight to the Sacraments, “unless one wants to fall further into the de-Christianization of Europe. It is no longer possible to continue to give the Sacraments to the persons who want to receive them only on the basis of social convention, and thoughtless tradition, and for whom the Sacraments are only empty rituals.”

Opposed to that, the supporters of a more accommodating position emphasize that one should not extinguish the glowing wick, that the request for the Sacraments [e.g., Matrimony, Baptism, Confirmation or First Communion; Burial of the Dead!] manifests even now a certain connection with the Church; one should not refuse these things to anyone, unless one wants to risk a damage that would be very hard to repair. The supporters of the strict direction show themselves here as attorneys for the community, while those of the accommodating approach come forth as advocates for the individual: they claim that the individual has a right to the Sacraments. In contrast, the supporters of the strict direction raise this objection: “If we want to bring the country back to Christianity, then it will happen only through the witness of small, zealous communities. In many places, it is probably necessary to begin all over again. Is it bad if a few individuals are rejected, but the future will be saved? Are we not a missionary country? Accordingly, why do we not use missionary methods? Now these require, first of all, strong communities, who then show themselves capable of receiving individual members.”

Finally, this discussion became so vehement that the French episcopate saw that it was necessary to intervene. So on April 3, 1951, they published a “Directory for the Administration of the Sacraments,” that in general takes a middle position. For example, with regard to Baptism, it determines that fundamentally it should be conferred on the children of non-practicing parents, if they ask for it. So it is not right simply to consider the parents to be apostates; their request for Baptism allows one at least to assume that they still have a certain kernel of religious conviction. “If, however, the prior children have not been raised in a Christian way, one can only confer Baptism, if the obligation is accepted at the proper time to send the child to be baptized to the catechism classes, and also the older children, inasmuch as this is possible.”

Some dioceses require a written commitment, and there is a special form for this. The Directory then says in particular: “Nuns, and members of Catholic Action, should be notified that they should not, in order to confer such Baptisms in all circumstances, exercise excessive pressure, which could give the impression of a lack of propriety.” This one example of Baptism shows that the Directory, in general, takes a very compassionate, or rather, a mild approach. Especially, it refuses to declare that non-practicing Catholics are simply apostates, and that means in praxis: they are not considered to be pagans, and they prefer, on the contrary, to pass judgment on each individual case.

However, this approach is not essentially different from what is still commonly done in our country. The Directory puts in the place of a pure sacramentalism, once again, an attitude of faith. Among us, one still encounters — and not only among nuns — the attitude that it would be a good thing if someone with finesse and cunning brings it about that the water of Baptism can be poured over a child. One cannot rest until the identity of “Church” and “world” is complete. In doing this, a person not only gives away the Sacraments, but he also cheapens them, and makes them worthless.

The Directory expresses very clearly that the situation is completely different: Certainly in the Sacraments, God offers His salvation to all mankind; certainly He invites all generously to come to His banquet, and the Church has the task of handing on this invitation, this open gesture of offering a place at God’s table; but the fact still remains that God does not need man, but man needs God. Men are not doing a favor for the Church, or the pastor, when they still receive the Sacraments, but the Sacrament is the favor which God confers on men. Therefore, it is not a matter of making the Sacraments difficult or easy to receive, but it has to do with having the conviction according to which a man knows and receives the grace of the Sacraments as a grace. This primacy of conviction, of faith in place of mere sacramentalism, is the very important teaching that stands behind the reasonable and prudent determinations of the French Directory. In the long run, the Church cannot avoid the need to get rid of, part by part, the appearance of her identity with the world, and once again to become what she is: the community of the faithful.

Actually, her missionary power can only increase through such external losses. Only when she ceases to be a cheap, foregone conclusion, only when she begins again to show herself as she really is, will she be able to reach the ear of the new pagans with her good news, since until now they have been subject to the illusion that they were not real pagans. Certainly such a withdrawal of external positions will involve a loss of valuable advantages, which doubtless exist because of the contemporary entanglement of the Church with civil society. This has to do with a process which is going to take place either with, or without, the approval of the Church, and concerning which she must take a stand {the attempt to preserve the Middle Ages is foolish and would be not only tactically, but also factually, wrong}. Certainly, on the other hand, this process should not be forced in an improper manner, but it will be very important to maintain that spirit of prudent moderation that is found in an ideal way in the French Directory.

All in all, in this necessary process of the de-secularization of the Church, one must keep three levels fully separated: the level of the sacramental, the level of the proclamation of the faith, and the level of the personal, human relationship between the faithful and the non-faithful. On the sacramental level, which formerly was protected by the arcana, or rule, of secrecy, is the truly inner essence of the Church. It must be freed from a certain simple confusion with the world, which gives either the impression of something magical, or reduces the sacraments to the level of being mere ceremonies {Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Burial}. It must, once again, become clear that Sacraments without faith are meaningless, and the Church here will have to abandon gradually and with great care, a type of activity, which ultimately includes a form of self-deception, and deception of others. In this matter, the more the Church brings about a self-limitation, the distinction of what is really Christian and, if necessary, becomes a small flock, to this extent will she be able, in a realistic way, to reach the second level, that is, to see clearly that her duty is the proclamation of the Gospel.

If the Sacrament is the place where the Church distinguishes itself, and must distinguish itself from the non-church, then the word is the method and way with which she carries on the open invitation to the divine banquet. Still, here one should not forget that there are two kinds of preaching: the ordinary preaching, which is a part of the Sunday liturgy, and the missionary preaching, which can be accomplished in a course of fasting and missionary sermons. The ordinary preaching, or the word proclaimed in the liturgy, can and should be relatively short, because it should not really announce new things, because its purpose is to dig deeper into the mystery of the faith, which has already, fundamentally, been accepted and affirmed. Missionary preaching should not deal with mere attitudes and individual points, but much more fundamentally present an outline of the faith, or the essential parts of it, in a way that the modern man can understand it. But here the matter to be covered cannot be spread out as far as it should be; to the extent that people cannot be reached through the word in this way, pastoral letters and public information can and should be used as much as possible.

Given these considerations, there should never be an attempt to administer a sacrament over a radio program, but it is suitable for missionary preaching. On the level of personal relations, finally, it would be very wrong, out of the self-limitation of the Church, which is required for her sacramental activity, to want to derive a sequestering of the faithful Christian over against his unbelieving fellow men. Naturally, among the faithful gradually something like the brotherhood of communicants should once again be established who, because of their common participation in the Lord’s Table in their private life, feel and know that they are bound together. This is so that in times of need, they can count on each other, and they know they really are a family community. This family community, which the Protestants have, and which attracts many people to them, can and should be sought, more and more, among the true receivers of the Sacraments.

This should have no sectarian seclusion as its result, but the Catholic should be able to be a happy man among men — a fellow man where he cannot be a fellow Christian. And I mean that in his relations with his unbelieving neighbors, he must, above all, be a human being; therefore, he should not irritate them with constant preaching and attempts to convert them. In a friendly way, he will be offering him a missionary service by giving him a religious article, when he is sick to suggest the possibility of calling a priest, or even to bring a priest to see him. He should not be just a preacher, but also in a friendly and simple way, a fellow human being who cares for others. (emphasis Ed.)

In a summary fashion as the result of this first series of thoughts, we have established this point: The Church, first of all, has undergone a structural change from a small flock to a world Church, and since the Middle Ages in the West, she has more or less been identified with the world. Today, this identity is only an appearance, which hides the true essence of the Church and the world, and to some extent hinders the Church in her necessary missionary activity. And so, either sooner or later, with or contrary to the will of the Church, according to the inner structural change, she will become externally a little flock. The Church must take into account this fact — that in the administration of the Sacraments, she proceeds more cautiously, that in her preaching, she makes a distinction between missionary preaching, and preaching to the faithful. The individual Christian will strive more earnestly for a brotherhood of Christians, and, at the same time, try to show his fellow humanity, with unbelieving fellow men around him, in a truly human and deeply Christian way.

Next to this sketchy structural change of the Church, it is also necessary to note a change of consciousness among the faithful, which is a result of the fact of the increasing paganism within the Church. For the modern Christian, it has become unthinkable that Christianity, and in particular the Catholic Church, should be the only way of salvation; therefore, the absoluteness of the Church, and with that, also the strict seriousness of her missionary claim, and, in fact, all of her demands, have become really questionable. Ignatius of Loyola requires the one making the spiritual exercises, in the meditation on the Incarnation, consider how the Trinitarian God sees that all men are falling into hell. Francis Xavier could tell the believing Mohammedans that all their piety was useless because they, whether pious or godless, whether criminals or virtuous persons, in any event were going to hell, because they did not belong to the only Church that makes a person pleasing to God. (empahsis Ed.)

Today, our humanity prevents us from holding such views. We cannot believe that the man next to us, who is an upright, charitable, and good man, will end up going to hell because he is not a practicing Catholic. The idea that all “good” men will be saved today, for the normal Christian, is just as self-evident as formerly was the conviction of the opposite. Indeed, since Bellarmine, who was one of the first to give consideration to this humanitarian desire, the theologians in many different ways have striven to explain how this saving of all “upright” persons ultimately is a salvation through the Church, but these constructions were somewhat too ingenious for them to make, and leave behind much of an impression. Practically, the admission remained that “good men” “go to heaven,” therefore, that one can be saved by morality alone; surely, this applies first of all, and is conceded to the unbelievers, while the faithful are constantly burdened with the strict system of Church requirements. (emphasis Ed.)

So being somewhat confused by this, the believer asks himself: Why can those outside the Church have it so easy, when it is made so difficult for us? He begins to think and to feel that the faith is a burden, and not a grace. In any event, he still has the impression that, ultimately, there are two ways to be saved: through the merely subjectively measured morality for those outside the Church, and for Church members. And he cannot have the feeling that he has inherited the better part; in any event, his faithfulness is grievously burdened by the establishment of a way to salvation alongside that of the Church. It is obvious that the missionary zeal of the Church has suffered grievously under this internal uncertainty.

I am trying, as an answer to this difficult question which troubles many Christians today, to point out in very short observations that there is only one way to salvation — namely, the way through Christ. But this rests primarily on the cooperation of two mutually opposed powers, on two, as it were, balance scales that together are only one scale, so that each balance scale, by itself alone, would be completely meaningless, and only has meaning as a part of the one scale of God. Indeed, this begins with the fact that God separated the people of Israel from all the other peoples of the world as the people of His choice. Should that then mean that only Israel has been chosen, and that all the other peoples have been rejected? At first it seems to appear as if this contrast of the chosen people, and the non-chosen peoples, should be considered in this static sense: as the placing next to each other of two different groups. But very soon, it becomes evident that that is not the case; for in Christ, the static placing next to each other of Jews and pagans becomes dynamic, so that now the pagans through their “not having been chosen” are changed into the chosen, but this does not mean that the choice of Israel was basically illusory, as is proved by Romans 11.

So one sees that God can choose men in two ways: directly, or through their apparent rejection. To state it more clearly: one sees clearly that God divides mankind into the “few” and the “many” — a division that occurs in the Scriptures, again and again: “The gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14); “The laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37); “Few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14); “Fear not, little flock” (Luke 12:32); Jesus gave His life as a ransom for the “many” (Mark 10:45). The opposition of Jews and pagans, of Church and non-Church, repeats this division into the few and the many. But God does not divide into the few and the many with the purpose of condemning the latter, and saving the former; also, He does not do it in order to save the many easily, and the few in a difficult way, but He makes use of the few like an Archimedean point by which He lifts the many out of their difficult situation, like a lever with which He draws them to Himself. Both have their role in salvation, which is different, but still there is only one way to achieve salvation.

One can only then understand this opposition correctly, when he comes to see that for him, the opposition of Christ and mankind lies at the root of the one and the many. That is, one sees here now very clearly the opposition: The fact is that all mankind deserves condemnation, and only the One deserves salvation. Here, something very important is visible, which is often overlooked, even though it is most decisive: the gracious nature of salvation, the fact that it is an absolutely free gift of grace; for the salvation of man consists in the fact that he is loved by God, that his life at its end finds itself in the arms of eternal love. Without that, everything would remain empty for him. Eternity without love is hell, even if otherwise nothing else happens. The salvation of man consists in being loved by God. But there is no legal claim to love. This is so even on the basis of moral goodness. Love is essentially a free act, or it is not really love. For the most part, we tend to overlook this with all moralism. Actually, no morality of the highest kind can transform the free response of love into a legal claim. Thus, salvation always remains a free grace, even apart from the reality of sin; for even the highest morality is still that of a sinner. (emphasis Ed.)  No one can honestly deny that even the best moral decisions of men, still in one way or another, even if it is subtly hidden, are infected with a certain amount of self-seeking.  Q1. So this point remains true: In the opposition between Christ, the One, and us, the many, we are unworthy of salvation, whether we are Christians or non-Christians, faithful or unbelievers, moral or immoral. No one besides Christ really “deserves” salvation.  Q2.

But even here, there occurs a wonderful exchange. Condemnation belongs to all men together, but salvation belongs to Christ alone. But in a holy exchange, the opposite takes place: He alone takes all the evil upon himself, and in this way, he makes the place of salvation free for all of us. All salvation, which can be given to men, is based on this fundamental exchange between Christ, the One, and us, the many, and it is up to the humility of faith to acknowledge this. But here, one must add the fact that according to God’s will, this fundamental exchange, this great mystery of substitution, on which all of history depends, continues itself in a complete system of representation, which has its coronation in the opposition of Church and non-Church, of the faithful and the “pagans.” This opposition of Church and non-Church does not mean a state of being next to each other, nor being opposed to each other, but of being for each other, in which both sides retain their own necessity, and their own proper function. In the continuation of the mission of Christ, the representation of the many has been committed to the few, who are the Church, and the salvation of both takes place only in their functional coordination, and their common subordination, under the great representation of Jesus Christ, which includes both groups. But if mankind in this representation by Christ, and in its continuation through the dialectic of the “few” and the “many” will be saved, then this means also that each person, above all the faithful, have their inevitable function in the whole process of the salvation of mankind.  Q3.

If men and women, indeed the greater number of persons are saved, without belonging in the full sense to the community of the faithful, so then it takes place only because the Church herself exists as the dynamic and missionary reality, because those who have been called to belong to the Church are performing their duty as the few. That means that there is the seriousness of true responsibility, and the danger of real rejection, of really being lost. Although we know that individual persons, and indeed many, are saved outwardly without the Church (yes) Q4, still we also know that the salvation of all always depends on the continuation of the opposition between the few and the many; that there is a vocation of man, concerning which he can become guilty, and that this is a guilt because of which he can be lost (and, no).

No one has the right to say: “See, others are saved without the full weight of the Catholic faith, so why not I also?” Q5. How then do you know that the full Catholic faith is not meant necessarily for you — a faith that God requires of you for reasons about which you should not try to bargain, because they belong to the things about which Jesus says: “You cannot understand them now, but you will later on” (John 13:36). Q6. So it remains true looking at modern pagans that Christ must know that their salvation lies hidden in the grace of God, on which, of course, his (the pagan’s) salvation depends, that in a look at their possible salvation he cannot dispense Himself from the seriousness of their own act of faith, and that this lack of faith must be for the pagan a strong incentive for a more complete faith, because he knows that he has been included in the representative function of Jesus Christ, on which the salvation of the world, and not just that of Christians, depends.  Q7.

In conclusion, I must clarify these ideas somewhat by a brief exegesis of two texts of Scripture, in which a point of view regarding this problem will be made known. There is, first of all, the difficult and weighty text, in which the opposition of the many and the few is expressed in an especially forceful way: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14). What does this text mean? Surely it does not say that many are condemned Q8, as one commonly tends to interpret it, but first of all that there are two forms of divine election. To put it still more precisely: It says clearly that there are two different divine acts, both of which have to do with election, without now giving us clarity whether or not both obtain their end.

But if one considers the course of salvation history, as the New Testament expresses it, then one finds this word of the Lord illustrated: From the static neighborliness of the chosen people, and the not-chosen people, there was in Christ a dynamic relationship, so that the pagans through not being chosen became the chosen ones, and then, of course, through the choice of the pagans, the Jews return back to their election. So this word can be an important teaching instrument for us. The question about the salvation of men is always falsely stated if it is posed from below, that is, as a question about how men justify themselves. The question about the salvation of men is not a question of self-justification, but one of justification through the free grace of God. It is necessary to see these things from above. There are not two ways in which men justify themselves, but two ways in which God chooses them, and these two ways of election by God are the one way of salvation of God in Christ and his Church; and this relies on the necessary dialectic of the few, and the many, and on the representative service of the few in the prolongation of Christ’s representation, or substitution.

The second text is that of the great banquet (Lk 14:16-24). This gospel is, above all, in a radical way the Good News, when it recounts that at the end, heaven will be filled with all those that one can, in one way or another, include; with people who are completely unworthy, who with regard to heaven are blind, deaf, lame, and beggars. Therefore, this is a radical act of grace, and who would wish to deny that perhaps all our modern, European pagans in this way can enter into heaven?

On the basis of this position, everyone has hope. On the other hand: The gravity of the situation remains. There is a group of those who will always be rejected. Who knows whether among these rejected Pharisees there is not perhaps someone who believed, who must be considered to be among good Catholics, but in reality was a Pharisee? On the other hand, who really knows whether among those, who do not accept the invitation, precisely those Europeans are to be found, to whom Christianity was offered, but who have rejected it? So at the same time, there remains for all both hope and a threat. In this intersection of hope and threat Q9, out of which the gravity and the great joy of being a Christian manifests itself, the contemporary Christian lives his life for the most part in the midst of the new pagans, which he, in another way, knows are placed in the same situation of hope and threat, because also for them, there is no other salvation than the One in which he believes: Jesus Christ, the Lord.”

https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/catholic-faith/the-new-pagans-and-the-church.html

Q1.  Is the non-self seeking heroic virtue?  If so, heroic virtue would not be heroic.  It would be common place.  So, I believe there is an every day, common middle of reasonable preservation without becoming entitled.

Q2.  Jesus is God.  Does God need salvation?

Q3. ?

Q4. So, there is no real need, at least on an individual level for the Church? Let the other guy bear the burden?

Q5. Why? Given what you just said?

Q6. So, free will has no place?

Q7. What about when the clock stops, which is implied in Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, etc.?

Q8. Saints on Salvation.

Q9. Methinks the good reverend is saying to the CINOs (Catholics in name only) of Europe, (or anywhere for that matter) don’t be so assured of your salvation due to your CINO status. Sinners and tax collectors are entering the Kingdom of God before you. He is, in a sense, scolding CINOs.  Imho, I think there are quicker ways for the good reverend to make his point more quickly based on Scripture.  Mt 20:1-16 and 21:31, come to mind.

Love & faith,
Matthew

The Heresy of Universalism


-by Trent Horn

“Is everyone definitely going to heaven? Are we all mistaken about hell? I will break down universalism and examines the biblical arguments that are used in support of this heresy.

‘YOU get eternal life with God! And, YOU get eternal life with God.  And, YOU, etc.” Wrong., not everybody gets eternal life with God. That would be Oprah if she was preaching universalism.

[Universalism exists] because one of the critiques of Hell, if you recall last time when I had Randall Rouser on the show, we looked at one critique of Hell, which says that, “Yes, Hell exists, but it’s not permanent and the damned are destroyed there.” That would be annihilationism. Another view of Hell is that Hell exists, but it’s more like purgatory. Hell is something where people are purified and so eventually all of the damned, at some point after death, will eventually embrace God, love God, they’ll repent of their sins and then have eternal life with God.

So, universalism is the view that all people or possibly all creatures, which may include the demons and even the devil himself, will be saved. And this is a view that you can find going far back in church history. It’s not a common one, it’s an extreme minority view in church history. You can find a few church fathers or a few ecclesial writers endorsing this view, but it’s a very small minority view. It probably goes back as far as the ecclesial writer Origen in the third century. He espoused a doctrine called apocatastasis.

So, apocatastasis means restoration, reconstitution, and it was his view that all human beings would eventually be drawn to God and all things will be reconciled to God and no one would be in Hell. People dispute a little bit over what Origen meant, because some people accused Origen of saying that even the devil would be redeemed and he would be in Heaven, I think Origen actually denied that view. But regardless of what happened, several centuries later in the sixth century, the church condemned Origen’s views and they condemned the doctrine of universalism, I think around the year 543 AD. Now, they condemned the specific view that we can know with certainty that all people will be saved. There are other variants of universalism that he will put forward, like hopeful universalism that are different in many key respects, like what Bishop Barron proposes and we’re going to talk about later here in the podcast.

So first, let’s start with the doctrine of universalism, classical universalism, that says we know for certain all people will be saved. And then we’ll move to what is called Von Balthasarian hopeful universalism, or the universalism that Bishop Barron promotes, which is based on the writings of the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

So, to go to classic universalism, there’s a recent book that just came out that I was reading through by an author that, I guess I grudgingly enjoy him. He’s an Eastern Orthodox theologian named David Bentley Hart, and he has a very eclectic writing career. The guy is legitimately smart. Like when I read through books, I normally can read through a book and I can get everything the author is saying, but one insight that Hart is very well read, is that he has an incredible vocabulary.

I mean, he had a personal library of something like 20,000 books that he eventually donated to charity or donated to university, but the guy is really well read. So, when I read through his stuff, the vocabulary he uses, every other page, I’m looking up words and normally I don’t have to do that. I think I have a decent command of vocabulary, a verbose vocabulary, if you will, but Hart will just say things that I’m like, “Okay, where is this coming from?”

Or the other thing that he does, this is the thing where it makes it grudging for me, that I like him because he’s smart. I think he puts forward decent ideas. In some areas he’s better than others, I think some of his arguments against atheism are great. He’s actually a great defender of the doctrine of divine simplicity, the idea that God is not divided into parts, but God is just infinite being itself. But there’s other things that he argues for that I think he’s comparatively weak on. He’s a big defender of socialism. I’ve critiqued him on our online magazine and he gets critiqued in my book I’m co-authoring with Catherine Bacolic called Why Catholics Can’t Be Socialist. He’s not Catholic, but he’s still espouses a Christian view saying that Christianity and socialism, Christians ought to be socialists, and so I take him to task for that in my book, though I don’t want to be on the receiving end of Hart taking me to task. I mean I might, but I would love a response from him, to this book.

Well, the book he wrote is called, let’s see here, That All Shall Be Saved, Heaven, Hell and Universal Salvation.  There’s a great review of it on the Gospel Coalition website, this is a Protestant website, by Michael McClymond, and McClymond actually has written a really big treatment of the history of universalism in the church. And he comes down on the view that it’s a minority doctrine held by only a few fathers in the church, and that it’s a destructive doctrine and that it promotes, I think, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. This idea that if everyone is saved, then it really cheapens the offer of salvation, the offer of grace that God gives us.

So, McClymond reviews Hart’s book, and I love, though, what he says about Hart’s rhetoric, because one thing that’s distinctive about David Bentley Hart is his rhetoric that he uses. So, he has a wide vocabulary, but he also knows the right words to tear people apart. So, this is what McClymond says. “One cannot consider Hart’s arguments for Christian universalism apart from the ethos and pathos of his prose. Willis Jenkins speaks of Hart’s adjectival petulance, while Douglas Pharaoh calls him, ‘an intellectual pugilist who floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.’ For better and for worse, Hart’s verbal pyrotechnics are as obvious as a bomb blast in a reading room. In That All Shall Be Saved, he claims that his intellectual opponents and their views are viciously vindictive, exquisitely malicious, specious reasoning, inherently incredible, morally obtuse, ostentatiously absurd, extravagant absurdities, an intoxicating atmosphere of corroborating nonsense.”

And that’s actually just a collection of insults from the first 20 pages of the book. He has all kinds of things he likes to throw at people as he goes on. And so what I want to do in this episode, though, I’m not going to go through Hart’s book bit-by-bit, I just want to use it.

That’s an introduction to the topic, because there’s really two different kinds of arguments that Universalists use. One, they’ll say, is that Hell is inherently unjust and so they’ll make philosophical arguments saying it would be unjust for someone, for God to allow someone to choose Hell or to be consigned to Hell for all eternity. And so I might address that in a future podcast, just focused on the philosophical arguments related to Hell. Instead, in this episode, I want to focus more on the biblical data, the data from divine revelation to say, “What has God told us about this?”

Because you might be thinking, “Well look, Jesus warned us about Hell. He said that people can go to Hell. The, you know, the gate is wide to destruction and narrow for those who find life. How can you get more obvious than that?” Well, universalists take a look at scripture and they do two things. One, they argue that the references to Hell are only temporary references. So, when Jesus uses adjectives like eternal, the Greek word ionian … This is similar to, you know, my discussion with Randall rouser on annihilationism. They’re talking about how it’s a punishment in the age to come, not one that necessarily lasts for an eternal duration.

But the problem I have with this, and I mentioned in my previous critique of the annihilationist, is that in Matthew 25:46, in Matthew 25, Jesus makes a parallel judgment of the sheep and the goats, the sheep that follow him, that feed the poor, clothe the naked, that follow Jesus’ teachings, they have eternal life with God. And so they have an eternal reward, they have eternal life. But then there’s a parallel with the goats who reject Jesus, who refuse to follow his commands, and they go into ionian colossan, eternal punishment.

And so ultimately though, if it’s not really eternal punishment, if it’s just life in the age to come and punishment in the age to come, then the sheep and the goats kind of end up in the same place. Because the goats, no matter how bad that purifying process is that they go through in Hell, when you compare it to the eternal, infinite happiness that awaits them in Heaven, it’s not going to be really any big deal at all. So, there’s a severe lack of justice in that result, and it doesn’t make sense of the biblical warnings that Christ gives for Hell. So, most Universalists, they try to argue Hell is just a purifying state and that all people will end up in Heaven, but that doesn’t make sense of the descriptions we have from Hell.

Now, if that were their only argument, then it would be a pretty weak position for them to run through. But the positive evidence that universalists offer is, they’ll pick Bible passages where it talks about how God desires the salvation of all people and that all people will be reconciled to God, and they’ll say, “Okay, well that shows that God is going to save all people. God wants all people to be saved.” 1st Timothy 2:4, “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

So that’s true. God wants all people to be saved. But just because God wants something, it doesn’t follow that’s going to happen. God wants me to not ever commit a sin in my life. Now, that makes sense, right? Does God want Trent Horn to sin? No, he doesn’t want me to sin. In fact, Jesus says, “Be perfect like your Heavenly father is perfect.” God wants me, from this moment going forward, to not commit a sin. Am I going to commit a sin? You bet I’m going to. In fact, James 3:2 says that we all stumble in small ways. So, there are many things that God wants, and that represents his perfect will for us, but he understands that we are not puppets on a string, we are not marionettes. And so, there are things God wants for us, but we can choose to not go along with his plan.

And one of those things is that God wants all people to be saved and the only thing that would keep that from happening is the free choice that God has given to his creatures. So what that means is, for example, for angels, angels are forever cut off from God because their decision to rebel against God before the creation of the world is fixed for all eternity. The catechism in paragraph 393 says this. It says, “It is the irrevocable character of their choice,” the angels who rebelled against God, “and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”

One of my arguments for why I believe Hell is eternal is that the damned make it eternal by continually sinning and rejecting God. They just double down on their sins and continue to wallow in them and routinely choose them over God for all eternity. And you probably know people like this who are stubborn, who are malicious, that even when they’re offered mercy and grace, they turn it down and they double down on their own sins and they find almost a sick kind of pleasure in their own sins and in their own stubbornness. And I think that that’s what Hell is, that Hell, it has a lock, but the lock is on the inside. That people choose to not unlock it, that if you took someone out of Hell and place them into Heaven, they would curse God and march right back into Hell and consider it to be better.

In fact, and to be sympathetic to David Bentley Hart, there is an Eastern view on what Hell is. I don’t believe it is compatible with the Catholic view of Hell, because if you look in the catechism in paragraphs, it’s between, I think it’s like 1035, 1033 through 1035, it says that the chief punishment of Hell is eternal separation from God. And so Hell, you’ll get everything you wanted in life, you’ll get yourself and you’ll be cut off from everything that is completely good in life, which is God.

A common view in Eastern Orthodox theology though of Hell, which I find really intriguing, I actually really want to believe it, but it seems to contradict what the church teaches about Hell being a separation from God. Many Eastern theologians have said that Hell is just the reaction that the damned have to God’s presence, that God’s holiness, for example, that when God’s holiness is received by different people, it is experienced in different ways. So, those who are saints in Heaven, the canonized, so the saints in Heaven who are freed from sin, they experience God as infinite bliss and it’s wonderful. The saved who are in purgatory, who are being purified of their sins, they experience God as possibly a painful kind of cleansing environment, that they see they’re moving towards the good, but it’s not a pleasant road going along the way. For them, the experience of God is kind of like the experience of going to the dentist, to use an analogy that’s helpful with children to explain what purgatory is like.

But the damned, what makes Hell Hellish is they experience God and it is just awful for them. They are in torment because they hate that goodness since they love themselves. Have you ever seen a narcissist? Somebody who is just in love with themselves, they’re always bragging about themselves. When they’re among a group of people and they’re with somebody who is objectively better than them, someone who is smarter, funnier, better looking, more accomplished, they’re always trying to one up that person and they can’t, and it just drives them crazy. And so, they don’t want to be a part of that. They don’t want to have to deal with that, it’s irritating to them. And so if that was magnified infinite fold in Hell for people to experience God, then it’s almost like there’s a kind of justice that in the afterlife everybody gets God and your temperament, how you’re fixed at death, whether your soul was fixed, oriented towards God or away God, will determine how you receive him for all eternity.

Now, just to repeat, that’s the Eastern view of Hell. I find it intriguing, but I do not think that it is compatible with the Catholic view, because the catechism in paragraph 1035 makes it very clear that Hell is eternal separation from God. Not that you receive God, but it’s just a horrible feeling because you’re not well disposed to receive him because you don’t desire that. The sin you cling to recoils at the love of God.

So, going back to Universalists, they’ll quote Bible passages like this. 1st Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” So, the Universalist says, “Okay, because of Adam, we all, every human being ended up in sin, and because of Christ, every human being will end up in Heaven.” That is not what Paul is saying here. He uses the phrase, in Christ, is a phrase that’s very specific to Pauline theology, and it refers to the saved. It refers to people who have the grace of God, who are united to Christ through baptism. It doesn’t refer to all human beings. So yes, “For as in Adam,” we all come from Adam because of biological generation, “all die,” all have original sin. So also, “In Christ,” those who are in Christ, “shall all be made alive.” All of those who are in Christ, not all human beings whatsoever.

This also explains what Paul writes in Romans 5:18. He says, “ASs one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” So the Universalist will say, “Oh, see here, it’s saying through Adam, one man’s trespass, all were condemned. And to have the symmetry through one man’s act of righteousness, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, this leads to acquittal and life for all men.” But once again, Paul is not saying that all human beings will be saved through Christ, in virtue that Christ has just died on the cross and so automatically all human beings will be saved.

He’s talking about life for all of those who are in Christ, and we know that in Romans 5:18, to sort of summarize, Romans 5:18, “One man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” It would be easy to read universalism out of that passage, but that’s not what Paul is talking about because we have to go back one verse. Remember, watch out for proof texts. You got to look at the context. A proof text without context is nothing but a pretext. I think that was the Protestant exigent D A Carson, who once said that.

In Romans 5:17 Paul says, “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will.” and here’s the key part, “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness, reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” So, Paul says that before Romans 5:18 and he says it’s not every human being, it’s those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness. Just because something is a free gift doesn’t mean that you have to receive it. I get free gifts and free offers in the mail all the time. “Free credit card offer, here you go.” Guess what? I’m not going to receive it because I don’t want that. Now, the free offer, the free gift of God? I will cooperate with God’s grace to receive that because I see that that offers the greatest thing I could ever have. Eternal life.

Okay, so let’s summarize where we’re at. We’ve been talking about universalism. That is the view that all people, possibly all creatures will go to Heaven and that Hell is a way that they are purified and that’s how they get to Heaven. But as we see, there’s no biblical evidence for this view, and it’s contradicted by the Bible’s teachings that Hell is something that’s really bad. Hell is not a stopping point on the way to Heaven, Hell is something that you don’t want to end up to. Hell is a place of death.

That’s why the annihilationist view makes more sense than the universalist view. The annihilationist will say, “Yeah, Hell is a place where you’re lost.” Because think about when Jesus talks about the lost, “I’ve come to save the lost, come for those who are lost.” If universalism were true, then the people who go to Hell, they’re not lost, they’re delayed. They’re delayed, they’re going to be purified in Hell, and then eventually they’re going to spend an infinite amount of time with God in Heaven. So, they’re not lost, they’re delayed. The annihilationist view makes more sense because they would say the damned are lost because they are destroyed in Hell.

Now, I disagree with them because it seems clear that the descriptions of Hell are that it is a never ending place of torment for those who were separated from God, and that the eternal separation the damned endure is not one where they go out of existence and so they’re apart from God for all eternity. Like if I delete an email, I don’t say it’s eternally deleted, it’s just it’s deleted, it’s gone. No, there’s this kind of enduring separation that takes place. And so it contradicts what we have from the biblical data, what we have from the teachings of the church that Hell is a real reality, that it’s not purgative, that not everyone’s going to have … And universalism was condemned in the sixth century. You cannot hold the view as a Catholic that you know for certain all people are going to Heaven.

Now, that brings us to Bishop Barron and so I’m going to have to tease out the end of this podcast here, but don’t worry. We’re going to continue this discussion in part two episode of this week, where I want to give enough time and treatment to this topic. I guess I thought I could cover both of these in one episode, but that’s fine, we’ve got flexibility here.

So, now we’ve seen what universalism is. You can’t believe that, the view that it’s definite all people are going to go to Heaven. But what about another view? What about a view we might call hopeful universalism? That’s the view where we’re saying, “Well, we don’t know for certain all people are going to Heaven, but is it possible that no one will be lost? Is it possible that no one will end up in Hell? That Hell exists? It’s eternal, but it’s empty. No human beings end up there. Is it possible and something we should hope for that all human beings will end up in Heaven?” That would be the view called hopeful universalism espoused by the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, and it’s more popularly espoused today by Bishop Robert Barron. So, that view is not the same as universalism. It is not the same.

And so there’s two questions I would ask of that view. One, is it an Orthodox view, is it a view that a faithful Catholic can hold? Does it contradict church teaching? And two, is it a prudent view? Is it a view that we ought to hold? Is it a good idea? Those are two different views, but I want to make sure I give that view the best treatment in my next article.”

Love, Lord, give me the grace to worthy of Your reward at my judgment, particular, and universal(final, last),
Matthew

Inculturaltion, Syncretism, Paganism, & nonexistent gods…


Please click on the image for greater detail.

Please click on the image for greater detail. A wooden statue of a pregnant woman is pictured in the Church of St. Mary in Traspontina as part of exhibits on the Amazon region during the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon in Rome Oct. 18, 2019. Several copies of the statue were stolen from the church and thrown into the Tiber River Oct. 21. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See SYNOD-STATUES-VANDALISM Oct. 21, 2019.


-by Todd Aglialoro, is the director of publishing for Catholic Answers Press. He studied theology at Franciscan University, the University of Fribourg, and the International Theological Institute. A New York native, Todd now lives in the San Diego area with his wife, seven children, and one small bird.

“Conflict continues to bubble over the recent Amazon Synod’s embrace of indigenous practices and imagery, with some critics accusing its organizers of tolerating syncretism: an illicit blending of religious ideas or symbols. The most prominent example being, of course, the ritual performed in the Vatican gardens that included various native totems—including one of several statues of a pregnant, naked woman whose identity remains in dispute but which has been popularly tabbed (including by the Holy Father) as the nature/fertility goddess Pachamama.

Some concerned Catholics sent the statues for a swim in the Tiber, but they apparently resurfaced, no worse for wear, and were returned to their former purposes. (Either that, or they were replaced with duplicates, like when your son’s hamster dies unexpectedly.) But the debate was just warming up, and last week it was joined by Card. Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, who criticized the “vandalism” of those who introduced Pachamama to Sister River.

He cited the Vatican’s official response to the incident, which in turn cited a passage from St. John Henry Newman to the effect that, over history, the Church sometimes adapted elements of non-Christian worship for its own sacred practices. Card. Cupich called this inculturation, which is a term we more often use to refer to the missionary practice of introducing and cultivating the gospel using the cultural touchstones of a place and people (see Redemptoris Missio 52). But it’s actually a “two-way street,” he said, and we must be prepared to let ourselves be inculturated by our contact with those we’re evangelizing.

This is consonant with the synod’s working document’s express desire that, quoting Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium, we let ourselves “be evangelized” by the people of the Amazon, and also with an editorial in the influential Jesuit newspaper La Civita Cattolica that said the Amazon Synod was an opportunity for “the periphery” to “contribute to the transformation of the center.”

Syncretism is a kind of mock-inculturation, since it doesn’t transform the old and false with the light of the new and true, but seeks to split the difference between them, creating a third thing. Fundamentalist Protestants sometimes accuse Catholicism of being syncretistic from the earliest centuries—of having shaken-up biblical truth with Roman paganism to create the superstitious mystery religion/system of works-salvation/Mary-worship-cult/take-your-pick Church that exists today. And in many of the Church’s historical missionary efforts there has been the danger of incomplete evangelization, producing not inculturated Christians but “baptized pagans” who retained some of their old beliefs alongside Catholic ones, or took up hybrid beliefs springing from an alchemy of old and new.

(I remember my first encounter with this: Paul Simon’s 1990 album The Rhythm of the Saints. Its liner notes told the story of slaves in Brazil who after conversion to Christianity adapted their percussive pagan rituals to the veneration of saints. But what seemed at first like a textbook inculturation case was actually a prime example of syncretism: the evolution of the cult of Candombléa soup of Catholic, African, and native South American religious ideas.)

From the point of view of faith, then, true evangelization and true inculturation are a one-way street. Yes, Catholicism is “incarnated” in different concrete cultural expressions, and yes, on the natural level the “seeds of the Word” may be present in paganism, as unevangelized peoples give voice to their innate longing for the unknown Creator. But at root it is always the one Faith: shining, transforming, revolutionizing, making all things new. It doesn’t negotiate with paganism but overwhelms and completes it with truth.

This is why the presence of naturalistic and pagan trappings during the Amazon Synod—along with statements like that of Bp. Erwin Kräutler, a principal synod player who has claimed that in decades of ministry in South America he has never baptized an indigenous person and never intends to do so—are troubling to so many. They may suggest, first, that the aim is not to Christianize pagan practices but to embrace them, in their raw form, alongside Christian ones in a syncretistic synthesis (perhaps part of a new “Amazonian rite”). And second, in a break from the usual mission approach, that the Church needs to learn from pagan Amazonia at least as much as it needs to teach it.

Inculturation versus syncretism again. It can be very easy to buy the former but take delivery of the latter. For of course it’s licit to emphasize the need for the Church to preach in a people’s cultural language. And it can be quite reasonable, even laudably humble, to recognize that a non-Christian culture may possess natural virtues (for example, a harmonious, anti-consumerist approach to God’s creation) that can edify us in turn.

But these pursuits are different from splitting the difference with paganism in an indifferentist bargain that mushes together Mother Earth and Mother Mary as interchangeable symbols of the life-giving Divine Feminine. Or from inviting animism to backwash into Catholicism with a dose of romanticized eco-spirituality.

How do we tell the difference? By close observation.

Inculturation is grounded in the truths of the Faith. When the evangelizing Church embraces elements of non-Christian cultures, it does so in order to use them as vessels for delivering Catholic truth unadulterated. No matter what it accidentally looks, sounds, or smells like, inculturated Christianity is always recognizable Christianity: monotheistic, trinitarian, biblical, apostolic, eucharistic, historical not gnostic, orthodox in faith and morals. The Blessed Mother may be depicted with brown skin and wearing the garb of a Mexican peasant woman, but she is still the lowly handmaid of Nazareth who said yes to an angel and bore the God-man, the second person of the Triune deity who revealed himself to the fathers of Israel.

For the evangelizing Church, authentic two-way inculturation lets us learn natural lessons from the “peripheries” that promote our deeper reflection on the truths that we present and that we strive to live every day.

Syncretism, on the other hand, introduces alien novelty. It results either in an embrace of falsehood along with truth or in their combination into a new thing. And not as a clever temporary measure meant to accompany people toward acceptance of the full Christian truth, but as an end—even a desirable one, considered more sophisticated and holistically true than either Christianity or paganism by itself. “Are not those who worship divinity in the Eucharist and in the earth,” the syncretist may ask, “possessors of a richer, more complete theology?”

Syncretism likewise becomes two-way when we take the wish to be “evangelized” by paganism beyond a natural or metaphorical sense and treat it as openness to a new revelation. The syncretistic impulse says not only, “Let us profit from whatever is good in this culture’s love of creation or respect for ancestors,” but, “Let us add its theology to our own; let us welcome its idols into our worship and bow before them.”

True inculturation means that new Christians can keep their old “rhythms”—but play them only for the Lord and the saints, leaving behind their dead gods. We should recognize that difference, and pray that from the Amazon Synod only true evangelization and full conversion may flow.

Love, and EVERYBODY TAKE A BREATH!!!! AND LIGHTEN UP!!!! Who wants to join a Church of fascists? Not me.
Matthew

Muslim discovers the Catholic Church

-by David Shawkan, David was born in January 1979 in Baghdad, Iraq. He works as a Senior Business Analyst and lives in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. He holds a BS degree in Civil Engineering and an MS degree in Management of Information Systems. David is married and has two children, a son, 11, and a daughter, 8. They are parishioners of St. Bartholomew the Apostle Catholic Parish in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. David enjoys reading and writing; he is writing a book, “Jesus, The Source and Summit of Us All”.

“So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You for hearing Me. I know that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” And when He had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and His face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
(-John 11:41–44 NABRE)

“My name is David, and I am the Lazarus of that Gospel passage. I was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1979 to a Muslim family of nine — six boys and three girls. I was the eighth child.

However, my family was not a happy one. My father was an alcoholic, and my parents fought regularly. From time to time, my father would leave the house, then come back a couple of days later to turn over a new leaf. But it was always the same old story. Finally, when I was about 12, my parents got divorced.

I have almost no memory of my father teaching me right from wrong, giving me advice, or showing me how to do things. My mother did her best to raise us right, but with her huge family, it was never enough. To help with the family’s finances, I started working at age 10, carrying out merchandise to people’s cars at a nearby grocery store. I would also go with one or two of my brothers to sell a bag full of items at a curbside spot known as the “Friday Market.” This was how we put food on the table. As the years advanced, most of my brothers were sent off to do their mandatory eight-year military service, so I ended up being the flag bearer at home.

Although I was lonely, I never felt alone. There was always Someone, whose identity I did not know, watching over me.

I was acquainted with God even when I was small. My family was not godless, but neither were we strictly religious. Most of my understanding about God came from the religious education I received at school, from reading, media, and an occasional visit to mosques and other places of religious significance. Most of my family would pray, fast, offer sacrifices, and give to charity, but not in a regular way.

I was an overweight kid and clumsy. At school, I was always the last one to be picked for sports. (Soccer was my favorite game, if I was allowed to play.) This affected my social skills and friendships; I actually had very few friends. As a result, I put all my effort into study, gaining a top ten in district when I graduated from elementary school. In this way, I became eligible to take a test to be accepted at the most prestigious middle and high school in the country. I passed the test, and my transformation began.

Throughout the subsequent years, my social grace improved, but I was less religious. When I graduated, I was admitted to the College of Engineering.

My family members moved into adulthood; some married and left home. Our father, of course, was gone. Eventually two of my brothers decided to leave Iraq for Jordan, then go on to Dubai, to escape the increasing government oppression. Nearly the entire family followed, leaving me to finish college alone.

Although I was lonely, I never felt alone. There was always Someone, whose identity I did not know, watching over me.

I graduated in 2001 and started getting my passport and papers so I could travel abroad. In the process, I met my soulmate, Emily, who is now my wife. We talked, dated, and got engaged.

Then in late 2002, I traveled to Dubai, where employment was waiting for me with a structural engineering firm. But my heart was not in the work; I had left it back home with my fiancée. When the new year came, war started, and with it, communication ended. I could reach no one back in Iraq.

I spent many hours watching the war news on television and thinking. Then I decided to do a crazy thing: In the middle of this war, I would return to Iraq to be with my fiancée, my friends, and whatever was left of my family. I had this lunatic idea that, with the war, the economy would be better and there would be more opportunity for everyone, especially for those, like me, with outside experience.

The only way back to Iraq was through Syria. So I flew to Syria, then took a minibus going to Baghdad. We passed the border and secondary checkpoints, but by then it was after sunset and night travel was dangerous, so we spent the night there. At sunrise, we resumed our journey. The road was empty, and it was scary. When we reached Baghdad, I went directly home and joyfully found everyone OK.

In less than a week, the war was over — but the chaos was just beginning. I had brought some money with me, but found no work, so the money dwindled away. In a fatalist mood, Emily and I decided that it would be better just to get married, and whatever happens, happens.

We were married in a civil ceremony. Then we waited a couple of months; she stayed with her parents and I in my family’s home, while I rented an apartment, bought furniture and other necessities. We finally began our married life in late 2004, with me still unemployed and a mere $300 between us.

Although we were lonely, we never felt alone. There was always Someone, whose identity we did not know, watching over us.

Our apartment was on Haifa Street, soon to be known as the notorious “Death Street.” After the war, many of the apartments on this street were vacant. This attracted the terrorists, where they could move about as if they were normal citizens. There were also many terrorist sympathizers in that area of the city, so that the terrorists acquired weapons and power.

The violence started when a U.S. convoy passed through. Suddenly bombs were detonated and the convoy was ambushed. All the U.S. soldiers were killed, and the terrorists jumped into the vehicles, shouting their slogan.

We ordinary people either left the neighborhood or learned to live with the situation. Our son was born in 2005, and I was employed by a company that served as vendor and supplier to the U.S. troops, government contractors, and other companies, so we stayed. I worked in the Green Zone, the Camps, and in other locations throughout the country. I had business relations with contractors and U.S. Army personnel, especially the Corps of Engineers. In the end, I started my own vendor-supplier company.

My wife, meanwhile, was working as an office manager with one of the American security companies, giving us some financial security.

But we had to keep our employment secret, because the terrorists would kill us as traitors if they knew. Anyone who worked for the Americans or joined the new local army would be on their death list.

I will never forget the day we awoke to see an Iraqi soldier, pieces of his body tied together with a rope, hanging between a light pole and a tree across the street. A cardboard sign stated, “This is the destiny of all traitors.” After that, the U.S. and Iraqi Armies refused to enter that neighborhood. The terrorists had it to themselves. They began to threaten, run out, and kill people of other ethnicities. They controlled access and killed on the spot anyone they decided was a traitor.

When our son Steven was three years old, we got word that the terrorists were out to get us. They must have found out where we worked. It was as if that same Someone who had called Abraham — “Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NABRE) — called us; we got our gear together and fled to Dubai.

I found work in downtown Dubai as a civil engineer with a consulting firm, building the tallest building in the world. We had a good income, a great apartment, and everything pertaining to a luxurious life. Our son grew, we had a daughter, and life was stable. But something was missing. There was a longing for meaning, for something or Someone that wasn’t in our lives at that time.

I hadn’t forgotten God, but I wasn’t living for Him and letting Him show me the way. Instead, I was trying to make my own way. This filled me with pride and arrogance. I became judgmental, considering some people beneath me. Now God, in His boundless love, was about to humble me and purge me, visiting upon me an interior captivity and suffering like that which He visited upon the Chosen People when they were in Egypt (see Exodus 2:23–25).

When the recession hit, the construction and real estate market in Dubai collapsed, and many people, including myself, lost their jobs. And if you were a foreigner in that situation, you lost your immigration sponsorship and had to leave the country. The speed with which all this happened left us stunned. I had no plan, little savings, and many financial obligations. We were forced to sell everything we had at a loss, and I left the car at the airport as we left.

But where would we go? We couldn’t go back to Iraq; we would be killed, for sure. So we decided to go to Jordan and apply for a program called SIV (Special Immigration Visa). This was a program for people who had worked for the U.S. government or their contractors and could not return to Iraq because of threats.

So my family flew to Jordan — myself, my wife, and the two children, ages four and one. And in Jordan, God taught us the real meaning of suffering. He humbled me, especially, in preparation of what was to come. Life there was much different than it had been in Dubai: no employment, no income, no resources, no family or financial support, high living expenses, and barely enough money to last two or three months. We had gone from luxury to poverty in a plane trip.

The SIV process took much longer than we had money for. Interviews and screening and job hunting seemed to go on and on. Finally, some meager help arrived from both my wife’s family and my own. We still had to live on bread, water, and occasional cheap vegetables. We lived for our children, who were trapped inside the four walls of our living quarters as in a jail.

We had a three-day respite when my family visited us. They took us to the tomb of Jethro and to Mount Nebo, where Moses had stood (see Deuteronomy 34), and we could see the Holy Land far below. I felt a longing for that place, the Holy Land. Everybody claims it — the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims — but it is really for all peoples. In that moment, I felt that God was going to help us. My faith grew stronger, and I began in earnest my return to God.

After several more months of waiting, the International Organization for Immigration (IOM) notified us, saying that we should get ready to leave for the United States, our departure date being within six days. However, four days later, the IOM notified us that the trip was canceled. My passport, which had been issued under the old Iraqi regime in 2002, was no longer valid now that Iraq had a new government. So I needed to acquire a new passport before we could leave. We had been lifted up only to be thrown down again.

Yet somehow, the pain I felt was not rage or anger, but pure suffering. In my poverty, I had grown closer to God, to that Someone who was always with me. And now He helped and supported me through the procedure of completing the documents, receiving my passport, and receiving another departure date. This time, for sure, I had completed my time of slavery in the land of Jordan. God was, in effect, telling me, as He had told Moses (Exodus 3:7–8 NABRE), “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Our exodus brought us finally to the United States of America in May of 2010. We stayed with friends for a few days, then rented a small apartment in Scotch Plains, NJ, where we still live today.

At this point, new challenges began. No one in the family knew English and the culture was different. We looked like strangers and got strange looks on the street. Some people welcomed us with a smile, while others did not like us. The task of adapting to this new life was daunting, and at times we thought of giving up and going back. But I’m not a quitter, so we stayed on.

I found a warehousing job in Freehold, an hour’s commute away: twelve hours a day, six days a week in a huge, windowless warehouse, without heating or cooling, lifting 50 pound boxes onto shelves or pulling them off shelves and stacking them on pallets. I would leave home before dawn and return when the children were going to bed, so I never had any time with them. Finally my body gave out, and I suffered a back injury. I applied for Worker’s Compensation, but they said, “You’re OK, you can return to work after a short rest.” I hired a lawyer and filed a grievance, and in this way finally got proper diagnosis and treatment for my slipped disc and nerve damage. To this day, I am physically limited because of that injury.

Back on the job market, finding employment was difficult. I needed work to support my family. Did that God I had trusted during all this time even exist? I was beginning to wonder.

Yet in the midst of my interior struggle, blinded and lost in a strange land, once again that Someone came to me, removed my blindfold and allowed me to see a glimmer on the other side of the wilderness. Here I was, wandering, searching, looking for answers, and at every turn, that Someone was there: Jesus.

I had encountered Jesus, as a Muslim, in the Qu’ran. In that book, He was not the Son of God, but I had always liked the stories that related to Him, the mystery that surrounded Him. I never realized until here, in America, it dawned on me that He might be the One who was watching over me, guiding me.

I recalled watching a video, where the Pharisees wanted to stone a woman who had committed adultery. To test Him, they asked Jesus about it. He turned to them and said (John 8:7 NABRE), “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” No one had an answer to that. Jesus then told the woman (verse 11): “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” I was astonished by this combination of authority and simplicity, and it inspired me to read the Bible. With such conflict within me, I dared not tell anyone what I was doing, not even my wife. It had to be a solitary journey, just between me and God.

I downloaded a Bible app on my phone; a physical Bible would be a giveaway to what I was doing. I read through Genesis and Exodus, but that wasn’t telling me what I needed to know. So I moved to the New Testament, beginning with the Gospel according to Matthew. When I reached chapter five, the Sermon on the Mount, I was amazed. Wow! What is going on? Who is this Person who tells people to love their enemies, to turn the other cheek, and all these other things? What really captured my mind and heart was this:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7–8 NABRE)

It seemed He was talking directly to me, telling me to seek Him and I would find Him.

Then I compared Jesus to everyone else in the Bible and throughout history. Everybody made mistakes and committed sins — except Jesus. That was a milestone, a moment of truth. Who is this sinless man? Where did He get all these tremendous teachings? Where did He derive His authority? The questions multiplied, but along with them, that glimmer of light began to grow within me.

I wrestled with God. What are You doing to me? Is this the path I should follow? I would fall asleep with these thoughts continually going through my head. Then one night, I had a dream. I saw Someone whose face shown like light. I couldn’t see the face itself, just the bright light. He held out His hand and said, “Come, do not be afraid.” When I awoke, I felt overwhelmed by the glory and was filled with joy and relief. This had to be the One!

Yet I would be lying if I said that I immediately believed in Jesus or submitted to Him. I needed a sign, something I could survey and evaluate. So for the first time in my life, I asked Jesus to provide me proof that He is real and — most importantly — alive.

Soon afterwards, my wife and I were returning from the city with the children. The car was parked at the train station. The weather was humid, and there was a layer of humidity on the car, so that one could doodle on it with his finger. On the windshield, driver’s side, there was a fish sign traced, like the ones the early Christians drew to identify themselves one to another. It hadn’t been done with a finger, because the moisture would be dripping down if it were. It was just there, perfectly outlined. All of us saw it, but I was the only one who knew what it meant: Jesus had left me a sign. Now I knew that Jesus is alive. He was the One who was always there for me, watching over me in every danger, every misfortune. I had been blind, but He helped me to see.

When we got home, I went straight to the bedroom, closed the door, knelt facing the window, and submitted myself to Jesus. In return, He gave me a comfort and peace that I had never before known. I now believed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and in the Holy Trinity. I believed that Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and alive, that He will come again to rule the righteous in His kingdom.

So now, to be Christian believers, we needed to attend a church. But which Church was the right one? More questions, a never-ending flow!

My family and I decided to study the history of Christianity, to see which Church was the true one. We studied about the disciples, the Apostles, the early Church, the bishops, the centers of power in the ancient and medieval world, the later divisions, basically the whole history. We also visited different churches: Catholic, Protestant, even Orthodox. We met and talked with many people along the way; they provided wonderful support and insight.

Coming from a Muslim background, one point we considered was the Virgin Mary. Back home in Iraq, we had a picture of Mary hanging in one of the rooms. She wore a green scarf. As a small child, I had no understanding of Mary’s significance. All I knew was that her pure face filled me with joy whenever I looked at her. My mother occasionally went to a nearby church to light candles. And yes, she had a rosary. She claimed that the Virgin Mary appeared to her in dreams to comfort her when times were difficult, like during the Iran–Iraq war in the eighties, when one of my older brothers was seriously wounded. For a Muslim boy, Mary was routine, but as I think of her now, guarding us with her love, it’s overwhelming.

My wife had had the same experience when she was small. She, her sister and mother would sometimes go to a church and light candles to the Virgin, to pray and ask her to be with them in their sorrow — and their prayers were answered.

The Virgin Mary, then, had a special place in our hearts and prayers, even as Muslims.

To research the Bible, we delved into its history, comparing the sacred Scriptures of the early Churches. We discovered that the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles have some books that are not in the Protestant Bibles. Well, those books either had to have been added or removed. So we researched the development of the Canon. It turned out that all the books were in the ancient official list from the Council of Hippo, ad 393. So history affirms that the books were later removed from the Protestant Bibles.

In the process of this research, I had acquired several different versions of the Bible. I asked the Lord to show me the right path. I placed the New American Bible (a Catholic version) under my pillow to sleep on it. That night I had a dream of a huge place with a multitude of people. Everyone was dressed in white. I was holding the Bible in my hand, reading it as if teaching. This confirmed to me that the Catholic Bible was the true one.

Now every faith has its prayers. But for Christians, there is a commandment in Scripture to pray the Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew 6:9 (NABRE), Jesus tells His disciples, “This is how you are to pray.” He did not make it optional; therefore, it is obligatory. Which churches taught this?

Regarding worship, the foundation is that of establishing and maintaining a harmonious and loving relationship with God. God is superior to man, so man should be in submission to God. Moses was commanded to remove his sandals when God appeared to him in the burning bush. And it is said that the Apostle Peter, when condemned to death by the Romans, asked to be crucified upside down out of humility. Both men respected God in their actions.

From this perspective, our worship — place, time, posture, rituals, prayers, etc. — must reflect our spiritual submission to Jesus. Worship should also strengthen faith and unity within the Church. It must take place between heaven and earth and align our prayers with heaven. These things we found fulfilled in the Catholic Mass. The altar, the incense, the ancient and holy prayers — all this caught our hearts and souls from the first time we attended. We were drawn, through study and attendance, to the Holy Sacrifice, the clean oblation, the offering that hearkens back to the first human being. This was the ultimate sacrifice for all mankind.

We were baptized, confirmed, and received our first communion at Easter 2016. My wife was happier than I had ever seen her. My son is now an altar boy, and my daughter is looking forward to serving God when she is older. We attend Mass daily as a family.

My life has changed for the better. I became a U.S. citizen. I obtained my master’s degree and am now working as a business analyst. I have become part of this wonderful community because God has been generous, rewarding me for my steadfastness by answering my prayers. He is just and all His statutes are just. He is the true and only God, in whom I believe and whom I seek to please all the days of my life.

Throughout my whole life, Jesus was with me, though I knew nothing of Him. He called me out of the land of Mesopotamia, the Nineveh of Tobit and Jonah, the Babylon of Daniel and the exiles, the Ur of Abraham. He led me out of slavery, through an exodus, and into a Promised Land. He humbled me through suffering in preparation for redemption and restoration.

At the right moment, when I was desperate, alone, abandoned in a dark place, as if I were dead, Jesus was standing there, in the light, calling to me, “David, come out!” Soon I found myself in His welcoming arms, clinging to Him with all my might.””

Love,
Matthew

Imprimaturs, Nihil Obstats & Imprimi Potests…oh, my!!!

What are they?


-by Rev. William P. Saunders, PhD

“Before addressing the terms themselves, we must remember that the Magisterium, the teaching authority of our Church, has the duty to “preserve God’s people from deviations and defections, and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error” (Catechism, #890). Therefore, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Whom our Lord called the Spirit of Truth, the Magisterium preserves, understands, teaches, and proclaims the truth which leads to salvation.

With this in mind, the Magisterium will examine those works, particularly books, on faith and morals and pronounce whether they are free from doctrinal error. On March 19, 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the following norms in this matter: “The Pastors of the Church have the duty and the right to be vigilant lest the faith and morals of the faithful be harmed by writings; and consequently, even to demand that the publication of writing concerning the faith and morals should be submitted to the Church’s approval, and also to condemn books and writings that attack faith or morals.” This mandate was reiterated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, #823.

The review process would then begin with the author submitting the manuscript to the censor deputatus, who is appointed by the bishop or other ecclesiastical authority to make such examinations. If the censor deputatus finds no doctrinal error in the work, he grants a nihil obstat attesting to this. Translated as “nothing stands in the way,” the nihil obstat indicates that the manuscript can be safely forwarded to the bishop for his review and decision.

Similarly, a member of a religious community would submit his work to his major superior. If the work is found free of doctrinal error, the major superior grants an imprimi potest, translated as “it is able to be printed.” With this approval, the manuscript is then forwarded to the bishop for his review and decision.

If the bishop concurs that the work is free from doctrinal error, he grants an imprimatur. From the Latin imprimere, meaning to impress or to stamp an imprint, imprimatur translates, “let it be printed.” Technically, this is the bishop’s official declaration that the book is free from doctrinal error and has been approved for publication by a censor.

Keep in mind that the imprimatur is an official permission pertaining to works written by a member of the Church and not by the official teaching Church, such as a Church council, synod, bishop, etc. The author can seek the imprimatur from his own bishop or from the bishop of the diocese where the work will be published.

While a Catholic author can certainly publish a manuscript without seeking the bishop’s imprimatur, some works require this official approval before they can be used by the faithful. Prayer books for public or private use, and catechisms or other catechetical materials (or their translations) require the bishop’s permission for publication (Code of Canon Law, #826, 827.1). Books related to Sacred Scripture, theology, canon law, Church history, or religious or moral disciplines cannot be used as textbooks in education at any level unless they are published with the approval of the competent ecclesiastical authority, or receive such approval subsequently (#827.2). Finally, books or other writings which deal with faith or morals cannot be exhibited, sold, or distributed in Churches or oratories unless they are published with the approval of the competent ecclesiastical authority or receive such approval subsequently (#827.4).

In all, these official declarations state that a publication is true to the Church’s teachings on faith and morals, and free of doctrinal error. Too many souls are in jeopardy because of the erroneous literature that is promoted as genuinely representing the Catholic faith. In an age where publications are abundant, a good Catholic must be on guard and look for the imprimatur before buying.”

————–


-by Jimmy Akin, a former Presbyterian, Jimmy is a convert to the Faith and has an extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.

“In recent years, imprimaturs have been granted to books connected with unapproved private revelations, and this has led to some confusion.

It has been argued that imprimaturs and nihil obstats are acts of the Magisterium, and therefore the faithful are obliged to give the religious submission of mind and will that they must to any other act of the Magisterium. This argument has been made, for example, by some supporters of the non-Catholic mystic Vassula Ryden.

Is this true? Are imprimaturs and nihil obstats acts of the Magisterium? What implications do they have for the faithful and how they are to regard private revelations?

The Code of Canon Law does not use the terms imprimatur and nihil obstat, but they are often used by Catholic publishers.

A nihil obstat (Latin, “nothing obstructs”) is a written opinion issued by a censor that nothing obstructs the publication of a book in terms of faith or morals (can. 830 §3).

In issuing this opinion, the censor is bound “to consider only the doctrine of the Church concerning faith and morals as it is proposed by the ecclesiastical Magisterium” (830 §2). This means that the censor is not to base the opinion on whether he agrees with everything claimed in the work—only whether the book contains statements that contradict Church teaching.

Censors are not typically bishops, so there is no question of whether nihil obstats are acts of the Magisterium. The Church’s Magisterium can be exercised only by bishops teaching in communion with the pope, so unless a censor is a bishop, there is no possibility that an opinion issued by a censor could be an act of the Magisterium.

An imprimatur (Latin, “Let it be published”) is an authorization given by a local ordinary (typically a bishop) to publish a work. The U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine notes:

In the Latin Catholic Church, there are two primary forms of ecclesiastical authorization for written works. These are identified in church law as “permission” (licentia) and “approval” (approbatio). Since these terms are not used consistently within the various authoritative documents, a consensus has not yet emerged among canonical experts as to whether the terms are interchangeable or whether there is, in fact, a precise and practical distinction between the two (n. 2).

However, these terms are given precise meanings in the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches, which provides:

  1. Ecclesiastical permission, expressed only with the word imprimatur, means that the work is free from errors regarding Catholic faith and morals.
  2. Approval granted by competent authority shows that the text is accepted by the Church or that the work is in accordance with the authentic doctrine of the Church (can. 661).

Are imprimaturs acts of the Magisterium? It should be pointed out that imprimaturs are issued by “local ordinaries” (cf. can. 824 §1), and not all local ordinaries are bishops. For example, local ordinaries include vicars general and episcopal vicars (can. 134 §1).

The fact that non-bishops can issue imprimaturs is a significant sign that they are not acts of the Magisterium.

Further, to exercise his personal magisterium, a bishop must himself issue a teaching, but this is not what is happening when an imprimatur is granted. The bishop himself does not teach something; he authorizes someone else to do something—namely, to publish a work.

The situation is similar to when a bishop issues a mandate for a theologian to teach at a Catholic university (cf. can. 812). He’s giving permission for someone else to teach, but that does not make everything the theologian says part of the bishop’s personal magisterium.

Similarly, when a local ordinary—even a bishop—gives permission for a book to be published, it does not make everything the book says part of the bishop’s personal magisterium. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explains:

“Ecclesiastical permission or approval . . . guarantees that the writing in question contains nothing contrary to the Church’s authentic magisterium on faith or morals (II:7:2; cf. II:8:3).”

This is a negative guarantee. It means that the work does not contradict Church teaching. However, it is not a positive guarantee that all of the opinions found in the book are true. In fact, this is sometimes expressly pointed out in the notification printed for an imprimatur.

For example, G. Van Noort’s 1954 book Dogmatic Theology: Volume I carries this notification:

“The nihil obstat and imprimatur are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal and moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the nihil obstat and imprimatur agree with the opinions expressed.”

What about private revelations and imprimaturs? In the 1917 Code of Canon Law, it was required that books of private revelations carry an imprimatur (cf. can. 1399 n. 5); however, this is no longer required.

In fact, very few books today require imprimaturs or other forms of ecclesiastical permission. These include translations of Scripture (can. 825), liturgical books, liturgical translations, prayer books (can. 826), catechetical materials, religious textbooks used in Catholic schools, books sold or exhibited in churches (can. 827), and collections of official Church documents (can. 828).

Since comparatively few books require imprimaturs, most books by Catholic publishers—including Catholic Answers—don’t carry them, and the same applies to books dealing with private revelations.

So, what does it mean if a book on an apparition gets an imprimatur? It does not mean that apparition is genuine. The Church has a separate process for investigating apparitions, and unless that process has been used, the apparition has not been approved as genuinely supernatural.

Even when the Church does approve an apparition, it does not mean that the faithful are required to accept it, only that they are authorized to accept it if it seems prudent. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explained when he was head of the CDF:

“Ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation has three elements: the message contains nothing contrary to faith or morals; it is lawful to make it public; and the faithful are authorized to accept it with prudence.”

It’s also worth noting that, when the Church does investigate an apparition, it’s not just any bishop who can do so. Although the Vatican or the conference of bishops could intervene, the only bishop with the authority to conduct such an investigation is the one in whose diocese the apparition has been reported.

This means that an imprimatur issued by a bishop in another part of the world would be unrelated to the apparition approval process. Such an imprimatur would mean is that a bishop somewhere in the world has judged (based on the opinion that the censor gave him) that the work does not contain anything that contradicts Church teaching.

The work may not even express itself well. It may have ambiguous statements that don’t necessarily contradict Church teaching but that could be understood in an erroneous way. It also may contain theological opinions that are false but that the Church has not (yet) condemned. And it may contain statements about non-religious matters that are inaccurate.

Of course, an individual bishop might favor the book—and the apparition on which it is based—and he might recommend them to others. This would mean that he, personally, favors them, but his granting an imprimatur would not constitute an act of the Magisterium binding the faithful to give “religious submission of intellect and will” (Lumen Gentium 25) to the apparition or what it says.

Even if he were (very extraordinarily!) to issue a teaching document endorsing the apparition, it would at most bind only the faithful of his own diocese (can. 753), for an individual bishop cannot bind the faithful of another diocese by his personal magisterium. Such a bishop also would likely get in trouble with the Vatican for overstepping the apparitions approval process.

So, the implications for an imprimatur being given to a book of private revelations are the same as they are for any other book. It’s a judgment by an individual bishop that the work does not contradict Catholic doctrine. Nothing more.”

Love, & NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!!!!! 🙂
Matthew

Transubstantiation – Natural Philosophy, Accidents & Substance, What the definition of IS is

If you are not familiar with philosophy, as I am not, some things said, some “arguments”, in the pleasant, logical sense, can be difficult to understand, since we do not possess the basic premise, language, or vocabulary from whence the final definition we are handed comes from.  It may be difficulty to understand:

if we have not been trained from the beginning of mathematical training.  In the same way with philosophical and theological “arguments”, it is likely the novice, especially literal ones :), will be lost very quickly in what is meant.

Ancient, at least Greek, philosophers were trying to understanding the world. They sought immutable truths, even in an ever mutable reality. One of the ways they described this knowledge to which they obtained was Plato’s “Theory of Forms”. A tree has “treeness”. A rock has “rockness”. Even though there are a myriad of different things by which we call “tree” or “rock” there is an immutable reality known as “tree” or “rock” which exists outside of these ever changing realities, by which we know their particular instantiations. This area of philosophy is called “ontology”, or the study of being. What does it mean to “be”? It’s quite logical and makes much sense if you follow the bouncing ball in its “ballness”. [Couldn’t help myself! 🙂]

Aristotle was a student of Plato, and a friend. But, famously said he was more a friend of the truth, and so disagreed that the nature of a thing is abstracted from the thing. A rock has “rockness”, a tree has “treeness”, says Aristotle. There is not an abstracted sense of being, but of being itself. The nature of the thing cannot exist without the thing itself.  Whereas Plato believed the concept of “treeness” or “blueness” existed outside human beings as an abstract reality, Aristotle believed the abstract reality existed in the human mind and not independent of physical reality, or the human mind.  Plato said forms are extrinsic to things.  Aristotle said forms are intrinsic to things.  Aristotle said you cannot have the form without the thing.  Plato said you could have the form without the thing.

Substance & Accident – Aristotelian Logic

Aristotle made the distinction between thing and quality of a thing. For instance, a dog is a dog, its substance. A dog may be black or brown, its accidents. Substance is the thing. Accidents are the qualities of things.

Substance and Accidents

Accidents are the modifications that substance undergoes, but that do not change the kind of thing that each substance is. Accidents only exist when they are the accidents of some substance. Examples are colors, weight, motion. For Aristotle there are 10 categories into which things naturally fall. They are

Substance, and
Nine Accidents:

  • Quantity,
  • Quality,
  • Relation,
  • Action,
  • Passion,
  • Time,
  • Place,
  • Disposition (the arrangement of parts), and
  • Rainment (whether a thing is dressed or armed, etc.)

As Fr Dwight Longnecker, a convert from Anglicanism, explains in a a helpful manner, the consecrated Eucharist for Catholics is neither a symbol nor literal flesh and blood, and neither has ever been the teaching of the Catholic Church, although to explain the distinction, less than articulate explanations have been given when you don’t know calculus.

Rev Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England.
Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical Protestant home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, SC.

“Neither position (symbolism nor literality) is the teaching of the Catholic Church. We believe in transubstantiation. The substance of the bread and wine really are transformed into the Body, Blood Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, the transformation is not physical in a literal way. If you took the consecrated host to a laboratory it would be chemically shown to be bread, not human flesh.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches:

1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament.

1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly His body that He was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.

It is therefore not possible for a Catholic to believe that the transaction at Mass is merely a symbolic memorial. But many people who believe in the Eucharistic transformation do not understand transubstantiation.

The word “transubstantiation” means “substance across” and to understand what this means we must first understand what the medieval philosophers like St Thomas Aquinas meant by the word “substance”. They meant by this word almost exactly the opposite of what we mean by it. When we say something is “substantial” we mean it is solid, real, physical and concrete. The medieval philosophers however, used the word “substance” to indicate the invisible and eternal quality of a thing. The physical aspect of a chair, for example, is temporary and mutable. It changes. Eventually, given enough time, the wood of the chair will break, rot and decay into dust. The “chair-ness” of the chair is the eternal, invisible part and this is what is referred to as the “substance.”

With bread and wine the “breadness” of the bread and the “wine-ness” of the wine is the substance and it is this “substance” which is transformed. The physical part of the bread and wine is called the “accident” and the accident of bread and wine remain although the substance of the bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ.

We can think of it like this: I have in a room at my home pictures of myself at the age of two being held in my father’s arms. Then there is a picture of me as a high school student and one of me in my thirties and now in my fifties. Each one is totally different because the “accident” of my physical body has changed. However, there is a “substance” of Dwight that is the eternal part of me that has not changed. It is present in each of the pictures even though my body is very different.

So with the bread and wine at the Eucharist, it is the invisible, eternal “substance” which becomes the Body and Blood of Christ while the “accident” of bread and wine still exist.

However, this philosophical explanation, like all philosophical explanations can only take us so far. In fact, the invisible part of a thing and and the physical part cannot necessarily be separated in this way. The invisible part of me and the physical part seen in the photographs is a unity. The objection to this explanation of transubstantiation that I have just given is that it sounds like the Lord is only “spiritually present” in the Eucharist. If the physical aspect is not transformed in some way, then some Catholics argue, the transformation is just an ethereal or spiritual presence sort of floating about and around the bread and wine. This is to misunderstand the fact that the invisible substance is the most real part of the bread and wine, not the least real. Not only is it the most real, but it is not separate from the physical aspect, nor can it exist separately from the physical aspect. Therefore, inasmuch as the substance is changed there is also some sort of change in the physical aspect.

Furthermore, there is a physicality to the Lord. He is not just a spirit floating around in the air. We say the Eucharist is His body, and that implies some kind of physicality. Therefore we must go a bit further than the medieval philosophical explanation and posit that the real presence of the Lord’s Body Blood Soul and Divinity in the sacrament is also, in some way, physical. We could say the inner quality of the physical Christ is present, but not extended in space. In other words, the reality of Christ’s presence is not just spiritual in an ethereal sense. Through the transubstantiation Christ is also present physically within the substance.

This does not mean that the bread and wine become human flesh and blood, and it is this misapprehension that we need to be careful to correct.

The exception to this would be the unusual examples of Eucharistic miracles, where the Lord, for the encouragement of our faith, allows at certain times for the bread and wine to be transformed not only in their substance but also in their accident.

Finally, transubstantiation is a philosophical explanation for what we believe happens in the mystery of the sacrament of the altar. What happens on the altar is far greater than a philosophical definition just as what happens in a marriage is far greater than a psychological definition of “love”. Instead of trying to explain the mystery of “love” we simply say to the beloved, “I love you.” Likewise, although we attempt to understand and explain the mystery of the Eucharist it is best to hear the Lord say, “This is my Body” and to hear the priest say as we receive the Lord, “The Body of Christ.””

———-

“O my soul, when you receive Holy Communion, try to reanimate your faith, do all you can to detach yourself from exterior things and retire with the Lord into the interior of your being where you know He is abiding. Collect your senses and make them understand the great good they are enjoying, or rather, try to recollect them so that they may not hinder you from understanding it. Imagine yourself at Our Lord’s feet, and weep with Magdalen exactly as if you were seeing Him with your bodily eyes in the house of the Pharisee. These moments are very precious; the Master is teaching you now; listen to Him, kiss His feet in gratitude for all He has condescended to do for you, and beg Him to remain always with you. Even should you be deprived of sensible devotion, faith will not fail to assure you that Our Lord is truly within you.

If I do not want to act like a senseless person who shuts his eyes to the light, I can have no doubt on this point. O my Jesus, this is not a work of the imagination, as when I imagine You on the Cross or in some other mystery of Your Passion, where I picture the scene as it took place. Here, it concerns Your real presence; it is an undeniable truth. O Lord, when I receive Holy Communion, I do not have to go far to find You; as long as the accidents of bread are not consumed, You are within me! And if, during Your mortal life, You healed the sick by a mere touch of Your garments, how, if I have faith, can I doubt that You will work miracles, when You are really present within me? Oh, yes! when You are in my house You will listen to all my requests, for it is not Your custom to pay badly for the lodging given You, if I offer you good hospitality!

O Lord, if a soul receives Communion with good dispositions, and if, wishing to drive out all coldness, it remains for some time with You, great love for You will burn within it and it will retain its warmth for many hours.” (-Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection 34-35).

Love & truth,
Matthew

Immutability – fallacious arguments 2


-by Karlo Broussard

Recently, we looked at an objection that argues God can’t be immutable and at the same time be the universal cause of temporal effects because that would entail God having to change in his acts—acting to cause one thing at one moment in time, ceasing that act at another moment in time, and engaging in a new act to cause something else at some other moment in time.

We showed that this objection fails because it wrongly assumes God acts in time and that there’s nothing in the notion of a cause that entails change.

But some atheists counter along the lines of an objection that St. Thomas Aquinas deals with in Summa Contra Gentiles 3.35: How can there be new effects brought about in time with no new acts in God’s will? Wouldn’t God have to act anew in order to bring about new effects? But if he acted anew for every new effect, then God would undergo change.

It seems that if we affirm God’s immutability we must deny that he’s the creator of temporal effects. If we affirm that God is the creator of temporal effects, which his role as the universal cause of all things entails, it seems we must deny his immutability.

What should we make of this counter?

Notice the assumption: new acts are necessary to bring about new effects. But it’s not necessarily true that something must perform new acts in order to bring about new effects. Perhaps an analogy will be helpful.

Consider a state leader who signs a bill of law and determines that it shall take effect and become binding one month after its signing. A new decree wouldn’t be necessary for the binding power of the law to come into existence when its appointed time arrives. The law would take effect at its allotted time due to the decree made a month before.

The lawmaker could even stipulate that the law be only temporarily binding, specifying not only when the law takes effect (a month subsequent to the signing), but also the time when the law ceases to have binding power (perhaps a year after the law goes into effect). So, by one act, the lawmaker would determine not only the new effect of the beginning of the law but also the new effect of the law no longer having binding power. And when each of those new effects would come to be—when the binding power of the law actually begins and ends—it would be due to the lawmaker’s one act.

Similarly, by a single act of intellect and will God specifies every aspect of a thing’s being, including the moment of time at which a thing will come into existence, the moments at which it will begin to act and cease to act, and the moment at which it will go out of existence—that is, if it’s the type of thing that can naturally go out of existence, unlike a human soul or angels.

As we saw in the article linked above, this is a necessary conclusion based on the fact that God is the first and universal cause. For if he only caused the existence of something and its activity, and not the time at which that thing comes into existence or acts, then there would be some aspect of being (the temporal mode of being) that would have escaped God’s universal causality.

Since that can’t be, we know God must not only cause the existence and action of a thing but the particular moment in the flow of time at which a thing exists and acts. And he does so by the one eternal act of intellect and will.

So just as a lawmaker can stipulate in one decree when a law begins and ends, and the binding power of that law begins and ends based on that one decree, so too God in one eternal decree determines the moments in time when an effect will come into existence and go out of existence, and when that effect comes into or goes out of existence it will be due to the one act of God’s intellect and will.

But an atheist might counter: It’s one thing to say that multiple effects can be determined by a single act when the “effect” is an abstraction and the determining action is an act of the mind, like when a law is determined to have and not have binding power. It’s another thing to claim, on God’s behalf, that a single act of the will can produce multiple effects in reality at different moments in time.

This counter fails on multiple fronts. First, it doesn’t take into account that God’s knowledge is identical to his will. His intellectual decree that some things come into existence and go out of existence at their allotted moments in the flow of time is identical to the single act of will by which he produces those effects.

Second, it wrongly assumes that when the effects become real they are necessarily temporally separated from when they are conceived in the mind, like when a house is actually built as opposed to the conception of its allotted time to be built in the mind of the contractor.

But with God this is not so. He doesn’t have to wait for the allotted time to arrive in order to produce the effect. All moments of time and the events that make up those moments are present to God simultaneously (see Summa Theologiae I:14:7, 13). As such, God is able to produce the multiple effects at their allotted times by a single act of his eternal will. The cause-effect relationship between those effects at each moment in time and God’s causal activity is like the cause-effect relationship between the knife cutting the orange: it’s simultaneous.

Third, this counter loses sight of God’s omnipotence. A rational creature might not be able to produce new effects at different moments of time without new causal action. But that doesn’t mean no rational being could do so. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “If [a rational being’s] act of will were of itself sufficient to produce the effect, the effect would follow anew from his previous decision, without any new action on his part” (SCG 3.35).

God’s will is sufficient to bring all effects into existence at their allotted moments in the flow of time because his will is infinite in power (omnipotent), able to do anything that doesn’t entail a logical contradiction. Since there’s no logical contradiction in the idea of a single act willing a multiplicity of effects to be and not be at different moments in time, we can say that given God’s omnipotence he’s able to cause temporal effects without new action on his part.

Since no new act of causation on God’s part is needed to bring about a new effect in the flow of time, or to will an effect to cease to exist at a moment in the flow of time, the objection that God must change in causing things to exist at one point in time and not at some other time has no force.

Yet again theism passes the coherence test, at least on this front. There’s one other reason atheists give to show the incompatibility of God’s immutability and his role as the universal cause, but we’ll have to save that one for another time.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Immutability – fallacious arguments


-by Karlo Broussard

“Atheists often claim that it’s contradictory for believers to assert that God is at the same time both the universal cause of all being and immutable. In other words, God can’t be changeless and at the same time changing, in the sense that he causes things to come into and go out of existence.

Consider, for example, that my act of typing this article right now is a reality ultimately because God causes it to be. His causal activity is not in opposition to my free action, but the presupposition for it. For whatever has being is ultimately caused to be by the source of being, God. Since my act of typing has being (it actually exists), it follows that God ultimately causes my action to be (even if he doesn’t cause every typo or imperfect metaphor that I choose).

By the time you read this article, however, my act of typing it will no longer exist. I’ll be engaged in other acts, such as throwing the football with my sons.

So, what God is causing to exist now (me typing this article in real time), he will no longer cause to exist when I shut down the computer. And what God was not causing to exist (me throwing the football with my sons), God will cause to exist.

But this seems to entail that God changes in his acts, acting to cause one thing at one moment in time, ceasing that act at another moment in time, and engaging in a new act to cause something else at some other moment in time.

If God brings about new effects in time, so it’s argued, he would have to engage in new acts of the will. And if that were true, he would change.

So it seems that if we affirm God as the ultimate cause of all temporal effects, we would have to say God changes. If we say God can’t change, then we couldn’t affirm that he’s the ultimate cause of all temporal effects. Neither of the two options is available for one who believes in the classical understanding of God.

Is a theist trapped?

Notice how the objection assumes that God’s causal action is located in time just like the effect is located in time, as if we can point to some moment in time before which he doesn’t act and after which he does. But there are good reasons to think this assumption is false.

God is eternal, and therefore doesn’t exist or act in the flow of time. He’s entirely outside the succession of moments in time, having all moments of time (our before and after) present to him simultaneously. Consequently, God doesn’t have a “before” and an “after.” And if that’s the case, then it’s not correct to assume that he begins to act after a certain time, before which he didn’t act.

Moreover, as the first and universal cause, God not only ultimately causes my act of typing but also the time at which he wills this act to be (5:00 pm October 14 in Brisbane, Australia). For if he were only the first cause of the action, and not the time at which the action occurred, then there would be some aspect of being (the temporal aspect of being) that would have escaped God’s universal causality. Since that can’t be, we know he must not only cause the action, he must also cause the particular moment in the flow of time at which the act takes place.

And because God can’t be conditioned by that which he causes to be (the particular moments in the flow of time at which all activity takes place), his causal activity can’t possibly be subject to time. In other words, God’s causal activity has no “before” and “after” because God’s causal activity itself determines the “before” and “after” of all activity. We have to be careful not to confuse, “God causes some things to be at some moments of time,” with “God, at some moment in time, causes some things to be.”

Since God’s causal action is not in time, it’s not necessary that he change in his act of causing new temporal effects (i.e., go from not causing to causing). Therefore, the assertion that God is the universal cause of temporal effects doesn’t contradict the claim that God is immutable.

Now, an atheist might respond, “Perhaps God doesn’t undergo change in his causal activity because he acts in time. But he must undergo change inasmuch as he acts as a cause, for change necessarily belongs to what it means to be a cause. So God, therefore, can’t be immutable and the universal cause of all things at the same time.”

The problem with this counter is that it assumes change necessarily belongs to what it means to be a cause.

Sure, the causes that we experience undergo change when they bring about an effect (e.g., me going from not engaging in the act of typing this article to engaging in the act of typing this article). But just because a cause of our experience changes when it causes an effect, it doesn’t necessarily follow that anything whatsoever that acts as a cause must undergo change.

All that’s necessary for a cause to be a cause of an effect is for the effect in question to be brought about by that cause. In other words, without the activity of the cause the effect would not be. There’s nothing in this understanding of a cause that necessitates the cause undergo change when it acts as a cause.

And that’s all a theist is saying when he says God causes temporal effects. Something comes into existence at a specific moment of time due to God’s causal action, and it goes out of existence ultimately because of God’s causal action.

So, the idea that some things are brought about at different moments of time, and that God is the ultimate cause that brings those things about at their distinct moments of time, in no way shows God must undergo change when he acts as a cause. There’s nothing in the notion of a cause that entails change and God’s causal action is not characterized by time.

At least on this front, theism passes the coherence test.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Dec 4 – St John Damascene (of Damascus) (675-749 AD), Icons = The Eyes of God

Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious
house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have
ears to hear but do not hear.
—Ezek. 12:2

Jesus said to [the disciples] . . . “Do you have eyes, and
fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?”
—Mk 8:17–18

“Both Jesus and Ezekiel recognized the parallel between having ears to hear and eyes to see, but in the Protestant tradition of my childhood, the emphasis was always on having ears to hear (the words of the Bible) to the loss of eyes to see. My earliest spiritual formation focused on the hearing part and omitted what became apparent later as effective avenues for engaging the seeing part. Symbolic images within worship began to inform my spirituality only when I chose the Episcopal Church as a teenager. I do not know if an increasing awareness of symbolism was due to natural maturation or to the richness of symbolic images so available in Episcopal liturgy. However, I vividly remember saying at age seventeen that my reason for converting was, in part, because my previous church was just “so plain.” As with many other seekers, I had a hunger for something more tangible. There was the longing to see God and live…

…icons provide a vehicle for our participation in God’s redemptive work. Icons are no less than the “dynamic manifestations of man’s spiritual power to redeem creation through beauty and art.”

If this were a book about icons simply as religious art, it would not be worth writing, let alone publishing. If Orthodox Christianity did not claim icons are essential for seeing the holy, I would not be motivated to try to inform non-Orthodox Christians about icons. God embodied, in the human and historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth—who is, for all Christians, also the Christ—the mystery and doctrine on which salvation depends. But finding Jesus incarnate in today’s world is the struggle of faith for many, me included. The words and images I encounter every day need to be countered, challenged, and balanced against words and images whose purposes are edifying, redemptive, and healing. ”
-Green, Mary E., (2014), Introduction, Eyes to See: The Redemptive Purpose of Icons, Morehouse Publishing, New York

Icons, to the believer, and properly understood, are incarnational, just like Christmas.  Acheiropoieta, are icons not made by human hands.

In cinema involving Russian characters, you will see the Russian, typically, but it could be Greek, someone of Eastern Orthodox sentiment, cover any icon with a cloth just before performing some heinous act such as suicide. There is a reason for this.

Jesus Christ is the first eikon (alternative spelling, Greek for image) of God. Icons are a symbolic and allegorical composition of: “Behold, the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy.” (Ps 32:18). Christian tradition dating from the 8th century identifies Luke the Evangelist as the first icon painter. There is a Christian legend that Pilate made an image of Christ.

In the icons of Eastern Orthodoxy, and of the Early Medieval West, very little room is made for artistic license. Almost everything within the image has a symbolic aspect. Christ, the saints, and the angels all have halos. Angels (and often John the Baptist) have wings because they are messengers. Figures have consistent facial appearances, hold attributes personal to them, and use a few conventional poses.

Color plays an important role as well. Gold represents the radiance of Heaven; red, divine life. Blue is the color of human life, white is the Uncreated Light of God, only used for resurrection and transfiguration of Christ. If you look at icons of Jesus and Mary: Jesus wears red undergarment with a blue outer garment (God become Human) and Mary wears a blue undergarment with a red overgarment (human was granted gifts by God), thus the doctrine of deification is conveyed by icons. Letters are symbols too. Most icons incorporate some calligraphic text naming the person or event depicted. Even this is often presented in a stylized manner.

In the Eastern Orthodoxy, there are reports of particular, Wonderworking icons that exude myrrh (fragrant, healing oil), or perform miracles upon petition by believers. When such reports are verified by the Orthodox hierarchy, they are understood as miracles performed by God through the prayers of the saint, rather than being magical properties of the painted wood itself. Theologically, all icons are considered to be sacred, and are miraculous by nature, being a means of spiritual communion between the heavenly and earthly realms. However, it is not uncommon for specific icons to be characterized as “miracle-working”, meaning that God has chosen to glorify them by working miracles through them. Such icons are often given particular names (especially those of the Virgin Mary), and even taken from city to city where believers gather to venerate them and pray before them.

In the Book of Numbers it is written that God told Moses to make a bronze serpent, Nehushtan, and hold it up, so that anyone looking at the snake would be healed of their snakebites. In John 3, Jesus refers to the same serpent, saying that He must be lifted up in the same way that the serpent was. John of Damascus also regarded the brazen serpent as an icon. Further, Jesus Christ himself is called the “image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1:15, and is therefore in one sense an icon. As people are also made in God’s images, people are also considered to be living icons, and are therefore “censed” along with painted icons during Orthodox prayer services.

According to John of Damascus, anyone who tries to destroy icons “is the enemy of Christ, the Holy Mother of God and the saints, and is the defender of the Devil and his demons.” This is because the theology behind icons is closely tied to the Incarnational theology of the humanity and divinity of Jesus, so that attacks on icons typically have the effect of undermining or attacking the Incarnation of Jesus himself as elucidated in the Ecumenical Councils.

Thus to kiss an icon of Christ, in the Eastern Orthodox view, is to show love towards Christ Jesus Himself, not mere wood and paint making up the physical substance of the icon. Worship of the icon as somehow entirely separate from its prototype is expressly forbidden by the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Catholics traditionally have also favored images in the form of three-dimensional statuary, whereas in the East, statuary is much less widely employed.

Icons are often illuminated with a candle or jar of oil with a wick. (Beeswax for candles and olive oil for oil lamps are preferred because they burn very cleanly, although other materials are sometimes used.) The illumination of religious images with lamps or candles is an ancient practice pre-dating Christianity.

Windows to Heaven

Icons look different to us because they are meant to be heaven looking at us, not us at heaven, hence the Eastern Orthodox covering the icon before some unholy act, which the character does not want Heaven to see.

The eyes of an icon are meant to look into the viewer — with what has been called inverse perspective. Most Western artwork has a vanishing perspective point that draws the viewer into the painting. With an icon, the icon seems to move toward the viewer, bringing Heaven close. If you pray with an icon properly, it will seem as if heaven were drawing into you. As Franciscan Fr. Michael Scanlon wrote, “For Eastern Christians, the icon is a representation of the living God, and by coming into its presence it becomes a personal encounter with the sacred, through the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

An icon, which we would most likely refer to as a painting, the correct verb for creation is “writing an icon”. An iconographer must be prepared for this work and receive permission from the bishop or abbot to begin an icon. He or she must spiritually prepare to write an icon with prayer and fasting. As the great modern Byzantine iconographer Photios Kontoglou wrote, “The art of the icon painter is above all a sacred activity…Its style is entirely different from that of all the schools of secular painting. It does not have its aim to reproduce a saint or an incident from the Gospels, but to express them mystically, to impart to them a spiritual character…to represent the saint as he is in the heavenly kingdom, as he is in eternity.”


-by Br Cornelius Avaritt, OP

“Icons are a gift of the Church. They are beautiful images that represent Christ and the mysteries of his life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following regarding icons:

The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the son of God has ushered in a new “economy” of images. Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words. Image and word illuminate each other. All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. (CCC 1159-1161)

Praying with icons allows us to behold the face of Christ, and to catch a glimpse of his love for the world while meditating on his humanity. The representation of Christ’s humanity through an image allows us to understand more fully the gospel message and to grow in knowledge of him. Just as the sacred words of Scripture signify the events of Christ’s life, so do the images reveal a glimpse of God’s plan of salvation for the world through depictions of the life of Christ. Because the Son of God was made incarnate, he became depictable. Icons depict his humanity, and we can pray with icons to deepen our love for Christ.

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of St. John of Damascus, a monk and Doctor of the Church, who was a strong proponent for the use of icons. He says the following in favor of the practice of venerating icons:

“We use all our senses to produce worthy images of Him, and we sanctify the noblest of the senses, which is that of sight. For just as words edify the ear, so also the image stimulates the eye. What the book is to the literate, the image is to the illiterate. Just as the words speak to the ear, so the image speaks to the sight; it brings us understanding.” (On the Divine Images,1, 17)

Icons captivate the eye, but they are not merely pieces of art that hang on walls. They bring “understanding.” The image “written” on an icon is meant to draw us into the mystery of Christ’s humanity, to engage our senses in prayer, to help us catch a glimpse of Christ’s face and through that prayer come to know him more. One feature of sacred images that helps bring such understanding is their rich symbolism depicted in the choice of colors of the scene. Gold often represents Christ. White represents purity and divinity. Red represents the humanity of Christ, while green represents earth and temporality. Purple is used to represent nobility. The different colors engage the eye, as to draw one into a meditation of the mystery that is depicted. Because of this, our prayer is made more fruitful and we come to recognize more fully the love Christ has for us.

Advent is a great time to grow in knowledge and understanding of our Lord. The use of icons for prayer during Advent is one way to grow in this knowledge and understanding. Icons helps us to catch a glimpse of salvation, and aid our belief in Jesus Christ. So, during this Advent season, as you are awaiting the arrival of our Lord, consider spending time in prayer with an icon, meditate on the mystery depicted in the scene, and may you come to know Christ’s love for you.”

Love,
Matthew