Category Archives: Apologetics

Sep 16 – Will the real St Cyprian (~200-258AD), Bishop & Martyr, please stand up!


-by Fr Ray Ryland (1921-2014), for Catholic Answers, was an Episcopal priest who converted to Catholicism in 1963. Married and a father of five, he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1983 under the pastoral provision granted by the Vatican for the admittance of married Anglican priests to the Catholic priesthood.

“For centuries, Eastern Orthodox theologians have tried to put their brand on Cyprian of Carthage, who was martyred in 258. They have hailed him as chief exponent of the Eastern theory of national churches totally independent of Roman control. From the twelfth century onward, Byzantine writers opposing Catholic ecclesiology “found their strongest argument in the ecclesiology of Cyprian.”

Cyprian is also a favorite of Anglican apologists in their arguments against the papacy. One of them has said that defenders of the Church of England’s break with Rome can base their entire case on the writings of Cyprian. To a Catholic it seems risky, at best, for Anglicans to base their whole apologetic on one interpretation of a few passages from the writings of one saint—especially since, as we shall see, Cyprian always submitted to papal authority.

Both Orthodox and Anglicans contend that Cyprian was a non-papal Catholic, a third-century “episcopalian.” Cyprian held that each bishop is completely in charge of his own diocese and with all other bishops shares responsibility for the unity of the Church. Thus far he was on solid Catholic ground. But then he entered on less solid ground. Cyprian claimed that the unity of the Church is to be preserved by all the bishops unanimously holding the true faith. He never told us what is to be done when bishops disagree over doctrine. He did say that when bishops disagree in matters not involving doctrine, they must simply agree to disagree.

Where did Cyprian fit the pope into the picture? He laid great emphasis on Matthew 16: the naming of Peter as “rock,” the promise to build the Church on Peter, the gift to Peter of the keys of the kingdom. He taught that the Church was founded on Peter and also on the other apostles, insofar as they constitute a body under the headship of Peter. Scholars (both Catholic and non-Catholic) are divided over the connection Cyprian saw between the Church’s episcopate and the successors of Peter.

Cyprian was headstrong. He apparently did not see the anarchical consequences of his theory of the independence of bishops. His favorite and almost only teacher was Tertullian, who died a heretic. The lack of clarity in Cyprian’s writings may also be due to his having been rushed from baptism into the episcopate in only two years, with little theological preparation.

Cyprian’s position has offered scope for the arguments of Eastern Orthodox Christians, who argue that the authority of the pope did not exist in the early centuries, but was a later development not based on any divine authority.

Nicolas Afanassieff assures us that the first Christians had no idea “that there could be a power over the local churches” and certainly no idea that such power might belong to an individual (the bishop of Rome). He solemnly recalls as “historical fact” that at least in the first three centuries every local church (diocese) was totally independent of any other church or any other bishop. In earlier articles I have shown this claim to be erroneous. In the first century, Pope Clement exercised authority in the name of Jesus Christ to settle a schism in the church at Corinth. No one questioned the Pope’s exercise of authority. Indeed, the Corinthians welcomed it. For many decades in their liturgy the Corinthians read from Clement’s letter to them. In the second century Pope Victor threatened to excommunicate large sections of the Church in the East if they did not observe Easter according to the practice of Rome. Though some decried the wisdom of his declared intention, no one questioned his authority. Eventually his will prevailed throughout the Church.

Now we turn to Cyprian himself—mainstay, we are told, of the anti-papal ecclesiology of Eastern Orthodoxy. To determine what Cyprian really believed about universal papal jurisdiction, we have to move beyond the ambiguities of his writings and examine his dealings with the papacy. His actions not only speak more loudly than his words; they also speak much more clearly.

MARTYR’S CERTIFICATES

In his own diocese Cyprian had to deal with a widespread threat to the Church’s discipline. Confessors (those being punished by the state for not renouncing the faith) and martyrs awaiting execution were usurping the authority of the bishop.

Under intense persecution by the Roman government, many Christians had lapsed or apostatized, thereby coming under the Church’s ban. After the persecution abated, the lapsed who repented would obtain from the martyrs and confessors certificates requesting the bishop to reduce or cancel the punishment due them. It was the bishop’s responsibility to evaluate the sincerity of the penitents. The bishop also had to decide what effect the confessors’ and martyrs’ certificates should have on the penance of the lapsed.

(Note this fact. What the Catholic Church teaches today about “indulgences” she was teaching and practicing in Cyprian’s time. The granting of indulgences is made possible by the solidarity of the Mystical Body of Christ. By virtue of that solidarity, the sufferings of some members of the Body have the power to lessen the punishment of other members of the Body. This is precisely what the martyrs’ and confessors’ certificates were intended to do.)

Imprudent confessors were ignoring the bishop and, on their own authority, freeing the lapsed from the prescribed penance. Cyprian believed, rightly, that this irregular procedure threatened the whole of the Church’s discipline. He wrote letters to several persons about this problem and sent copies of all the letters to Rome, asking the Roman clergy to consider what he had written.

He addressed the Roman clergy rather than the pope because there had been no incumbent in the see of Peter for a couple of years: After the martyrdom of Pope Fabian (250), active government persecution had prevented the election of his successor. Yet Cyprian showed deference to the see of Peter even when it was vacant. He would take no final action with regard to reconciling the lapsed and apostates without consulting with Rome.

During the persecution, Cyprian himself had gone into hiding. Some of his people criticized his action and sent their complaint to the Roman clergy. (Why would Carthaginians take this matter to Rome, if the local churches were absolutely independent, as Eastern apologists assert?) The Roman clergy wrote to Cyprian and asked for an explanation. Did Cyprian indignantly reject their request and assert his complete independence as a bishop? No. On the contrary, he sent the Roman clergy a defense of his conduct.

Still another action on the part of the Roman clergy, when the see of Peter was vacant, reflects the primacy of Rome. In a letter to Cyprian’s archdeacon (bypassing Cyprian, bishop of the diocese), the Roman clergy told the Carthaginian clergy how they should deal with the lapsed. Did Cyprian condemn this action as interference infringing on his autonomous jurisdiction? Not at all. He wrote the Roman clergy that he had read their letter and in practice would uphold their opinion.

Schismatics from Carthage went to Rome to join the schism of Novatian there. Cyprian denounced the wickedness of the Novatians in Rome and spoke scornfully of the Carthaginian schismatics who had gone to Rome, “the chair of Peter and to the principal [or ruling] church, whence episcopal unity has taken its rise.”

Obviously Cyprian did not regard his own see, Carthage, as “the” or “a” chair of Peter. He said the schismatics who went to Rome were going to “the chair of Peter.”

“SOVEREIGN RULING”

This “chair of Peter,” said Cyprian, is “the principal Church.” Irenaeus had used these same words about Rome. Tertullian had defined the phrase to mean “that which is over anything, as the soul presides over and rules the body.” Cyprian called Tertullian his “master” and read his writings every day. We can assume that he followed his master in using “principal” to mean “sovereign ruling.”

Speaking of the schismatics who had gone to Rome, Cyprian said, in effect, “They are wasting their time!” Not only is Rome the source of the Church’s unity (“whence episcopal unity has taken its rise”), the schismatics are wasting their time because the Romans—the “chair of Peter,” the pope—are “they to whom faithlessness can have no access.” This is an astonishing statement—astonishing, that is, outside the context of papal infallibility. But we must assume that Cyprian meant what he said.

In practice Cyprian contradicted his own teaching about the independence of each bishop. When Marcion, bishop of Arles, left the Church’s communion and joined the schismatic Novatians, the bishops of the province wrote to the pope asking him to take action. (If they were independent of Rome, why did they not take action themselves?) The action required was for the pope to excommunicate Marcion and appoint a replacement. For unknown reasons, the pope delayed his response. Faustinus, bishop of Lyons, wrote to Cyprian about the matter, seeking his advice.

Cyprian thereupon wrote to the pope, urging him to take action. His letter implies that the pope was the one—the only one—to set matters straight in Arles. He urged the pope to write “letters of plenary authority [literally ‘most full letters’] by means of which, Marcion being excommunicated, another may be substituted in his place.”

Regardless of what Cyprian may have written about the independence of each bishop, here he clearly recognized the authority of the pope to remove and install bishops (for good cause) anywhere in the world.

BAPTISM BY HERETICS

It was Cyprian’s struggle with Pope Stephen over the subject of baptism by heretics which has most endeared Cyprian to Eastern Orthodox and Anglican apologists. It is also that.aspect of Cyprian’s career that caused the Donatists (fourth-century heretics) to claim him as patron saint of their position. Repeatedly to their chief opponent, Augustine, the Donatists quoted Cyprian. Augustine acknowledged Cyprian’s error, but emphasized Cyprian’s refusal to break with Rome.

In his conflict with the schismatic Novatians, Cyprian drew the erroneous conclusion that baptism by heretics is invalid, contrary to the Church’s teaching. By the force of his personality and of at least three African councils that he dominated, Cyprian lined up the bishops of Africa behind his position. Rejection of heretical baptism was an innovation that found wide support in the East.

On this issue, as on others, Cyprian’s thinking was confused. On the one hand he insisted that each bishop was perfectly free to decide whether to accept or reject baptism by heretics, since the issue was not doctrinal. At the same time, in vehemently expounding his position he invoked weighty dogmatic considerations. Cyprian sent Pope Stephen a report of the African synods, explaining that he and the synods had not laid down any law binding all the African bishops. He sent the report because he believed that the Pope should be consulted, even though this was not a doctrinal issue

The issue was whether persons outside the Church’s unity could baptize validly. Stephen ruled that they could, if they used the proper form. Persons who were baptized by heretics and who repented and returned to the Church were to be received by the laying-on of hands. Stephen’s answer to Cyprian makes it plain that his ruling is not a definition of faith, yet Stephen forbade rebaptism of those who had received heretical baptism and decreed excommunication for those who performed rebaptisms.

In his reply to Cyprian’s report, Stephen reminded Cyprian that he (Stephen) was successor of Peter, whom Cyprian had extolled in his writing on unity and on whom Jesus Christ had founded his Church. Stephen further reminded Cyprian that he (Stephen) held the chair of Peter, about which Cyprian had written enthusiastically. Finally, Stephen called for Cyprian’s obedience.

Immediately upon receiving Stephen’s reply, Cyprian dispatched legates to Rome to try to persuade the Pope to change his ruling. It was a most inopportune time for Cyprian to do this. The Pope was then contending with schismatic Novatians who were rebaptizing Catholics who joined them. The African legates would probably have been identified in people’s minds with the Novatians. This would have lent the eminent name of Cyprian to a heretical group.

So, for the good of the Church and of Cyprian, Stephen refused to receive the legates, ordering them not to spend a single night in Rome. When the legates returned to Carthage, Cyprian sent messengers to the East to enlist support for his cause of rebaptism. He wrote to Firmilian, bishop of Cappadocia and partisan of Cyprian’s cause. Firmilian responded to Cyprian’s letter, and Stephen’s ruling, in a letter filled with indignation and bitterness. Yet Firmilian’s letter itself implicitly recognized the Pope’s authority. Firmilian expressed no indignation over Stephen’s emphasizing his role as Peter’s successor and his claim to what we call universal jurisdiction.

If Stephen’s claim had not been universally accepted, Firmilian’s ultimate weapon against the despised ruling would have been to deny and reject papal authority. That weapon was not available to him, so all he could do was fulminate in bitterest terms.

There is no evidence that either Cyprian or Firmilian was excommunicated. Did Cyprian accept Stephen’s decision and stop rebaptizing those who had received baptism from heretical hands? Jerome says the African bishops corrected their decision to rebaptize and “issued a new decree.” Augustine says the Easterners followed the Pope’s directive: “they rescinded their judgment, by which they had decided that it was right to agree with Cyprian and that African council.” In another place he writes that the Easterners “corrected” their judgment about rebaptism.

Anti-papal apologist John Meyendorff asserts that this event was simply a regional reaction against incipient Roman centralization. There was nothing “incipient” about what Meyendorff calls Roman centralization, but which Catholics call papal universal jurisdiction. That jurisdiction had been exercised since the first century, as has been shown. Furthermore, the controversy was not about centralization at all, but about sacramental and ecclesiological issues of the deepest import.

Eastern and Anglican apologists who rely on Cyprian’s controversy with Pope Stephen to support their case for independent national churches forget or ignore the key fact: Cyprian never even questioned, much less denied, the Pope’s authority to make his ruling and its penalty for non-observance. He only opposed the content of the ruling. Cyprian’s insistence on rebaptism was attractive to many minds. It seemed to safeguard Catholic truth by drawing a sharp line between orthodoxy and heresy. But papal universal jurisdiction and papal teaching authority made all the difference.

In this controversy, “it needs only a few lines from the pen of the Pope to overthrow all that scaffolding of texts and syllogisms. The partisans of innovation may resist as they please, write letter after letter, assemble councils; five lines from the sovereign Pontiff will become the rule of conduct for the universal Church. Eastern and African bishops, all those who at first had rallied round the contrary opinion, will retrace their steps, and the whole Catholic world will follow the decision of the Bishop of Rome.”

Eastern opponents of the papacy are mistaken in their reliance on Cyprian as the mainstay of their apologetic. Cyprian repeatedly deferred to the supreme authority of the bishop of Rome. In at least one instance he begged for the exercise of that authority. With regard to heretical baptism, he opposed a pope’s ruling but never questioned papal authority. The Eastern churches today recognize that Cyprian’s teaching was wrong and that the pope—as usual—was right.”

Love,
Matthew

1. John Meyendorff, Orthodoxy and Catholicity (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1966), 12.

2. St. Cyprian, The Lapsed: The Unity of the Catholic Church (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1957), chapters 4 and 5.

3. Nicolas Afanassieff, “The Church Which Presides in Love” in John Meyendorff, The Primacy of Peter (Leighton Buzzad, Bedfordshire: Faith Press, 1973), 83, 73.

4. Quoted by Luke Rivington, The Primitive Church and the See of Peter (London: Longmans, Green, 1894), 58.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., 71.

7. John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), 221.

8. Rivington, 115f.

Sep 14 – Triumph of the Cross, Cross or Crucifix?


-St. Vincent de Paul Church. Huntington Beach, California

Often in an ecumenical chapel, the crucifix (the moment of our salvation) facing the congregation is turned around displaying a plain cross for Protestant services.  The devil in me imagines Jesus turning his back on Protestants.  😉  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.


-by Michelle Arnold, Catholic Answers

“The new empress had converted to Christianity the year before and was eager to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Her son, the emperor, although not yet a Christian himself, gave his mother permission to use the imperial treasury to buy up whatever sacred relics she could find during her stay. With that, St. Helena headed off to see the sites of Christ’s earthly ministry, intent on locating what physical relics remained from his public life.

Helena’s most important discovery is reputed to have been the cross on which Christ was crucified. According to traditional accounts, after ordering the destruction of a pagan temple built near Calvary by a previous emperor, Helena had her men excavate the site. There they found three crosses. To determine which one was Christ’s, Helena had a mortally ill woman touch each of the crosses. When the woman was miraculously healed after touching one of them, Helena proclaimed that cross the True Cross.

In honor of his mother’s find, Emperor Constantine ordered a church to be built on the site. That church became known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (known by the Orthodox as the Church of the Resurrection). Most Christians believe it to house both Calvary and Christ’s tomb. The first day that the True Cross was brought outside the church for adoration by the faithful, September 14, 335, would become the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which we celebrate today.

Protestants often are deeply uncomfortable with Catholic devotion to the crucifix, a sacramental that depicts the corpus (body) of Christ on his cross. They want to know why Catholics don’t simply have empty crosses in their churches, as is the custom in many Protestant churches. After all, they claim, Christ has been raised from the dead. Doesn’t a bare cross better show that he is risen?

Despite their affinity for crosses, many Protestants are also skeptical of the Church’s claim to possess the True Cross and to make relics from that cross available for veneration by the faithful. Not only do they doubt the authenticity of the relics, but some anti-Catholics even scorn the value of the True Cross itself. As the late Bart Brewer wrote:

It is said that if all the pieces of the [true] cross [of Christ] displayed in Catholic churches were assembled together, it would take a ten-ton truck to carry them. It is clear that most “relics” are frauds. Furthermore, there is nothing in the Bible that supports the veneration of relics, even if they are genuine.

So, on the one hand, many Protestants object to crosses that display Christ’s body in favor of bare crosses—and, on the other, they often reject the value of the True Cross itself, even if pieces of it were real. How do we as Catholics answer these objections? The story of how Helena recovered the True Cross may be useful in answering both objections.

As we saw, when Helena and her men excavated the site where Calvary had been located, they found three crosses. Naturally, they assumed that two of the crosses belonged to the two criminals executed with Christ (Matt. 27:38). Not having any interest in the thieves’ crosses, they sought to determine which cross was Christ’s and accepted a miraculous healing as proof of the True Cross.

Bare crosses alone, such as the ones Helena found near Calvary, were of no interest unless she could prove which one of them was Christ’s. The other crosses might have been interesting archaeological finds, but had no lasting value to her.

But even without Christ’s body hanging upon it, the actual cross on which Christ died is sacred because of its relation to him. Think of a throne without a king, a bench without a judge, or the presider’s chair in a church without a priest. Even when not in use, thrones, judicial benches, and presider chairs do have inherent value as symbols of the authority of the one who uses them. In like manner, the True Cross is sacred and worthy of Christian devotion because the one who used it is God himself.

From its beginning, the Church has reverenced the image of Christ on his cross and has considered the manner in which Christ died to be an integral part of the gospel. St. Paul wrote:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:21–24, emphasis added).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that we do not merely preach Christ’s resurrection but the resurrection of the one who was crucified, which acts as a confirmation of the divinity of God the Son:

The truth of Jesus’ divinity is confirmed by his resurrection. He had said: “When you have lifted up the son of man, then you will know that I am he.” The resurrection of the crucified one shows that he was truly “I AM,” the Son of God and God himself (653, emphasis added).

When Protestants ask why Catholics use a crucifix instead of a bare cross, the answer then is twofold. We don’t separate Christ’s body from his cross because we value both his body and his cross. God the Son died as man to save the world, which means that his human body is sacred and worthy of our worship. And since he chose to die by crucifixion, the cross on which he died is worthy of our veneration because that was the means by which he saved the world. A bare cross has no value unless it is clearly his cross. As Paul said:

Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:14).

And not only does the cross attain value by its relation to Christ—we too can become distinguished by our connection to the cross. Have you ever seen an icon or holy card of Helena? In practically every image created of her, iconographers and artists render her as holding a cross. That’s because Helena is most readily identified by Christians not by her relationship to her son the emperor, but by her relationship to Christ and his cross.

Today’s feast commemorates not just the death of Christ (as does Good Friday) but invites us to venerate the Cross itself, by which He redeemed the world.”

Love, Jn 19:30,
Matthew

Anti-Catholicism in the USA


-A 1894 print by Udo Kepler shows the pope’s nuncio (ambassador) Archbishop Francesco Satolli, who was appointed in 1893 as the first Papal Delegate to the United States, casting a shadow (looking a like Pope Leo XIII) in 1894 holding a crosier, sitting atop an enormous dome labeled “American Headquarters” and casting a large shadow in the shape of Pope Leo XIII across the landscape of the United States. Several cities, some with buildings labeled “Public Schools,” are encompassed by the shadow of the Pope, including New York City, the U.S. Capitol building, “Memphis, New Orleans, El Paso, Denver, [and] San Francisco.”  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Trent Horn

“In 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that some businesses were exempt from the Affordable Care Act contraception mandate if they had a religious objection to it. After the decision was released, Ronald Lindsay, an advocate for atheism and author of the book The Necessity of Secularism, penned an online essay titled, “The Uncomfortable Question: Should we Have Six Catholic Justices on the Supreme Court?” Lindsay mentioned past Catholic prejudice and his own risk of sounding bigoted, but he still argued that the Court’s ruling could be explained only as the result of Catholics following the rule of the pope rather than the rule of law.

Imagine the outcry if Lindsay had complained about a group of female judges he claimed were biased against men. What if Lindsay had complained that there were too many Jewish judges on a certain appeal circuit? In those cases there would be widespread condemnation, but because Lindsay attacked Catholics, he was given a free pass.

This double standard is nothing new. When we trace the history of Catholicism in the United States back through the centuries we see that not only is anti-Catholicism the last acceptable prejudice, it was also one of the first.


-famous 1876 editorial cartoon by Thomas Nast showing bishops as crocodiles attacking public schools, with the connivance of Irish Catholic politicians.  Please click on the image for greater detail.

Religious “freedom” in the New World

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, British colonists traveled to the New World in search of religious freedom and they found it—but only for their respective churches. Most of the colonies established some form of Anglicanism or congregationalism as their official religion while other Protestants, not to mention Jews and Catholics, were subject to persecution if they did not attend these worship services.

Some colonies would not even tolerate the existence of these religious groups, which is evident in Massachusetts’s “Act against Jesuits and Popish Priests,” passed in 1700, which gave Catholics several months notice that they had to leave the province. Even the colony of Rhode Island, whose tolerance for members of religious minorities earned it the nickname “Rogue’s Island,” forbade Catholics from serving in public office.

Why were Catholics treated so poorly? Many of these early eighteenth-century restrictions were a response to the so-called “Jacobite uprising” in England in 1745 that attempted to install the Catholic Prince of Wales, James Stuart, to the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones. The plan failed, leaving the prince’s father James II as the last Catholic monarch to ever reign over the British Isles.

The other prominent location of Catholics in America was the colony of Maryland, which its founder George Calvert actually called terra mariae, or Mary Land. Even though this colony would become home to the first American diocese, it still had a majority Protestant population. After Calvert’s death, his son Cecil gave the following instructions to the governor of Maryland in hopes that a Protestant majority would not erode the religious freedom Catholic’s enjoyed: “[I]nstruct all the Roman Catholics to be silent upon all occasions of discourse concerning matters of Religion; and that the said Governor & Commissioners treat the Protestants with as much mildness and favor as Justice will permit.”

The Great Migration

By the mid-nineteenth century, the industrial revolution drew hundreds of thousands of Americans out of the farmlands and into urban areas. In the 1840s the Catholic population in these areas exploded after the Irish potato famine brought millions of Irish immigrants to cities like Boston, New York, and Baltimore. These Catholics formed labor unions to protect themselves from violence and discrimination, the latter of which could be seen in “Irish need not apply” signs that littered storefronts across the United States, some as late as 1909.

Despite this hostility, Catholic immigration to the United States accelerated, and anti-immigrant activists blamed increased public welfare spending and rising crime rates on the “hordes” of Catholics flooding the country. Some critics also saw the influx of Catholics as a threat to democracy itself because of Pope Leo XIII’s condemnation of “Americanism,” or the heretical view that the Church should have no influence on public policy but should instead adapt to a changing culture.

Unfortunately, many people interpreted the pope’s exhortations for the Church to shape society as a mandate to conquer it and instill a theocracy. Ellen G. White even claimed that Catholics would force all citizens, including her fellow Seventh-day Adventists, who celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday, to worship on Sunday. (Some Adventists still promote this conspiracy theory in a book called National Sunday Law).

The combination of fear and resentment toward Irish, Italian, and German Catholics also fueled the rise of a semi-secret political society called the Know-Nothing Party. The name came from the group’s members who would say they knew nothing about whatever the organization was planning. It’s no surprise they stayed tight-lipped, given that the Know-Nothings used violence and intimidation to keep Catholics and other immigrants from being elected to public office.

On August 6, 1855, what is now called Bloody Monday, armed Know-Nothing mobs controlled the city of Louisville, Kentucky, and made a show of force to prevent Catholics from “rigging” the day’s election. What transpired were a series of beatings, lootings, acts of arson, and murders that resulted in the deaths of at least twenty-two people and the near destruction of the city’s cathedral.

Unfortunately, the Know-Nothings tactics won dozens of state and local elections in the 1850s, when they ran as the American Party. After one of their candidates, Levi Boone, was elected mayor of Chicago, he banned immigrants from the city’s government and police force. The Know-Nothings also sought to ban Catholics from holding public office.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution specifies that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” but this applies only to positions in the federal government. States and local municipalities could exclude atheists, Jews, Catholics, and other religious groups from public office until the Supreme Court’s 1961 Torcaso v. Watkins case ruled that religious tests represented an establishment of religion and were therefore unconstitutional.

The Catholic “menace”

As quickly as the Know Nothings appeared, by 1860 the party was torn apart by the issue of slavery. Anti-slavery Know Nothings became Republicans, while the pro-slavery members joined the Constitutional Union party, which faded out of existence after losing the 1860 presidential election. But the demise of the Know Nothings did not end the spread of their anti-Catholic rhetoric.

The most infamous group that assumed the anti-Catholic mantle was the Ku Klux Klan. Decades before their assault on racial integration, the Klan fought to protect white, Protestant America from “papists” who it claimed were immigrating to conquer America by numbers and even by force. Many Klan members believed that every Catholic parish kept a stockpile of weapons to use in a future war against Protestants.

Even though Klansmen had no qualms about using violence and other intimidation tactics, they considered their most potent weapon against the Church to be mandatory public school attendance. In 1922 the Klan teamed up with the Freemasons to pass the Oregon Compulsory Education Act. They hoped public school would tech Catholic children “civic lessons” and wean them of their troublesome immigrant heritage, including their attachment to their Catholic Faith. The act would also have the practical effect of closing down every parochial school in the state.

Thankfully, after vocal opposition from parents and campaigning by the then-forty-year-old Knights of Columbus, the case was brought before the Supreme Court. In 1925 the Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that the Compulsory Education Act was unconstitutional and that parents have a right to determine their child’s education.

The Kennedy legacy

Even though the Supreme Court sided with the Church on school choice, Protestant America still viewed Catholics with deep suspicion. In 1928 Al Smith became the first Catholic nominated for the presidency but he lost the election, at least in part, because of his Catholic Faith. In one case, Smith was accused of imposing his Catholic morality on the public because of his opposition to alcohol prohibition, a stance that drew heavy backlash from tee totaling Protestant moralists.

It would be more than thirty years before another Catholic ran for president, and Protestants opposition remained fierce. The famous evangelist Billy Graham convened a group of his fellow Protestants in Montreux, Switzerland, in order to devise a plan to halt the momentum of John F. Kennedy’s campaign.

In the face of this criticism, Kennedy realized the importance of keeping the “religion question” from sidelining his message to voters, so on September 12, 1960, he gave an historic speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association that provided the framework for future Catholics to assuage the fears of non-Catholic voters. He said:

“I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the Church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as president—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject—I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”

So where are we today? According to the Gallup polling agency, in 1958 only two-thirds of Americans were willing to vote for a Catholic presidential candidate. Today, 94 percent would do so, but that willingness often assumes that the candidate will not impose his faith on the American people. This includes not just the imposition of sectarian morality (like legislating mandatory Mass attendance) but the imposition of Catholic principles that all people should be able to recognize from reason alone, such as the right to life for unborn children.

Do Catholics still face prejudice in American politics today? Probably not so long as their Catholic identity is a line in their biography or a photo opportunity of something innocuous like helping at a Catholic food bank. But when Catholic politicians try to defend the unborn’s right to life or the natural definition of marriage, you can bet their faith will become a target for criticism.

But that cannot stop them or us from acting in accordance with our Faith in the public square. To do so would render in vain the many sacrifices Catholics have made that ensure you or I could run for office or even have a voice in the polling place and public marketplace of ideas.”

Love,
Matthew

Aug 15 – Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Eastern Tradition


-by Fr Deacon Daniel G. Dozier

“In the great mystery and divine economy of the Christian faith, the role of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God (or Theotokos) is pivotal. It is from her that the incarnate Son of God received his human nature. The Church’s cycle of feasts pertaining to the life of Jesus are celebrated to some extent in the context of the symphony of Mary’s life, from holy beginning to holy end. We celebrate this holy end of Mary’s life today with the Solemnity of the Assumption, in the East called the Dormition.

Catholics of the Latin tradition often assume that Mary’s final end has been sufficiently addressed by the dogma of the Assumption, that is, her translation, body and soul, into heaven as defined by Pius XII in 1950. But as glorious as the mystery of her Assumption is, it represents only one dimension of the mystery of the end of Mary’s life. There is also her death and subsequent resurrection. On this subject, Pope Pius remained silent, choosing not to address the subject of Mary’s mortality. The Byzantine tradition, however, as part of the universal and fully Catholic patrimony of the Church, is not silent on this topic. It guards a rich treasury of teaching, iconography, and liturgy concerning the end of Mary’s life.

According to the tradition of the Byzantine East, the Assumption was the final stage of Mary’s transition into the glory of heaven. This Analepsis or “translation” of Mary to eternal life was preceded by what was called the Koimesis or “sleep” or Mary in death. These three events—her death, her resurrection, and her assumption into heaven—complete the mosaic of the holy end of Mary’s life. But what are the literary and historical bases for such a belief within the traditions of the Church?

Before the Council of Ephesus (third and fourth centuries)

It must first be said that Sacred Scripture is completely silent on the matter. No explicit reference to Mary’s death is ever mentioned in the New Testament.[1] Prior to the first Council of Nicaea, the only explicit references to Mary’s death come from Origen of Alexandria and Ephrem the Syrian who both mention her death (which seems to be assumed as fact) in the context of defending her perpetual virginity (which they were intent on defending.[2]

Although not entirely convinced of the fact of the Virgin’s death, Epiphanius of Salamis in the late fourth century wrote that three possibilities existed concerning the end of Mary’s life: death due to natural causes, death through martyrdom, or immortality without death. He was the first patristic source to posit the death of Mary as a question or a problem with a limited number of solutions due to the lack of evidence in Scripture.

Pseudo-Melito of Sardis, who wrote in the fifth century, related a distinct Palestinian tradition in favor of acknowledging the Virgin Mary’s death. His writing was the first and most explicit account of this tradition, which was probably a story orally transmitted over the course of several generations of Christians. His account is the first of what became known as the “Palm of the Tree of Life Tradition,” which represents a family of writings characterized by the distinctive palm branch given to Mary by the archangel Gabriel as a sign of the Lord granting her prayerful petition to pass from this life in death into paradise with him.

According to Stephen Shoemaker, a contemporary theologian who specializes in the area of the Dormition traditions, some of the common threads running through the Palm narratives are as follows:

  1. An angel meets Mary on the Mount of Olives and announces to her that her time of death has come and brings to her a palm branch from the Tree of Life in paradise;
  2. Mary goes back to her home in Jerusalem and informs her friends and family of the message of the angel, and the apostles, who were engaged in their respective missions all over the earth, re-gather miraculously in Jerusalem;
  3. Peter, who is treated as the head of the apostles, delivers a homily to those who have come the night before to pray as Mary prepares for her death;
  4. When the moment arrives, the crowds are put to sleep, all except the apostles and three virgins, who see Jesus and a host of angels appear;
  5. Jesus receives the immaculate soul of Mary, appearing in the form of an infant wrapped in white swaddling clothes, and gives it to Michael the Archangel;
  6. The apostles carry Mary’s body on a funeral bier to a tomb beside the Garden of Gethsemane;
  7. Jephonias, one of the Jewish leaders, attempts to upend the funeral bier but as he does so his hands are severed by an angel, then later restored by his conversion and prayers to Mary;
  8. After laying her body in the tomb, the apostles wait for Christ there for several days until he returns, resurrects Mary and takes her body, along with the apostles, to paradise;
  9. The apostles, after being shown heaven and hell, then return to earth with Mary remaining, body and soul, in heaven.

One of the later narratives also mentions a situation where Thomas arrives late. By the time he reaches the city and meets with the other apostles, Mary has been buried and he requests to see her body in the sealed tomb. When the tomb is opened, however, Mary’s body is not to be found, but rather the relics of her funeral robe and her girdle. The finding of the relics is also part of the Dormition traditions of Constantinople and Ephesus.

Byzantine homiletic literature (seventh and eighth centuries)

Following the advent of a special feast in honor of Mary’s Dormition, an enormous amount of Byzantine homiletic literature developed in the seventh and eighth centuries. Preachers and writers of the era generated a body of teaching on the Dormition that was unparalleled in patristic literature. This period in many ways represents the full flowering within the first millennium of the theological implications of Mary’s title of Theotokos. Patristic scholar and Jesuit Father Brian Daley notes several common themes that appear in these writings:

Mary’s glory and beauty, as the highest embodiment of an idealized humanity, reaching its divine destiny; Mary’s enthronement as lady and queen, and her share in Jesus’ Messianic rule over all creation; Mary’s continuing role in the everyday life of the Church, as intercessor, kindly patron, even mediator between Christians on earth and her glorified Son; the direct link between this new and glorious status for Mary and the purity of her earthly life—her obedience and fidelity, her total dedication to God, expressed  in her virginity, and freedom from the “corruption” of passion and self-interest; her role as the one who fulfills and epitomizes the hopeful imagery of the whole Bible, realizing the ancient promise of a transforming human intimacy with the God of life—as Ark of the Covenant, Mother Sion, Bride of the heavenly Bridegroom.

Father Daley also observes that “for all these preachers, the heart of the ‘mystery’ being celebrated in Mary’s name is the Mystery of redemption through and in Christ.”

The central meaning of this celebration was that, although Mary has received from her Son this great privilege of entry into the glory of heaven, this was done not for her sake alone, but also for the sake of her spiritual offspring in the Church. Mary’s Assumption, like all Marian mysteries, is an instrument for the salvation of souls. Her role of maternal mediation, made more powerful by her glorification in heaven, continues in the life of the Body of Christ and therefore merits a deep, rich, and public veneration by the Church.”

Troparion — Tone 1
In giving birth you preserved your virginity, / in falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos. / You were translated to life, O Mother of Life, / and by your prayers, you deliver our souls from death.

Kontakion — Tone 2
Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos, / who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. / For being the Mother of Life, / she was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.

Love,
Matthew

[1] Mary’s presence in heaven as the glorified and crowned Woman of Revelation 12 implies her entry into paradise as the New Eve and Queen Mother at the end of her earthly life, but nothing indicates her translation through death and resurrection.

[2] See Walter J. Burghardt’s The Testimony of the Patristic Age Concerning Mary’s Death.

Aug 15 – Assumption/Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary


-please click on the image for greater detail

[Aug 15 is a special day for entering and advancing novices, those who have completed their canonical year, of transition in the Dominican Order. Those invited take the simple vow of obedience for three years, the only vow Dominicans ever take. All the evangelical counsels are summed up in the vow of obedience to Dominicans.]


-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.

“As we approach the great feast of the Assumption of Mary, I, having written a post on the biblical evidence for the Assumption of Mary, thought I would change gears and consider the historical evidence for the Assumption in honor of this year’s feast day.

The doctrine of the Assumption of Mary began with a historical event to which Scripture alludes and that been believed in the Church for 2,000 years. It was passed down in the oral tradition of the Church and developed over the centuries, but it was always believed by the Catholic faithful. Let us examine the facts:

1. Archaeology has revealed two tombs of Mary, one in Jerusalem and one in Ephesus. The fact that Mary lived in both places explains the two tombs. But what is inexplicable apart from the Assumption is the fact that there is no body in either tomb. And there are no relics. Anyone who peruses early Church history knows that Christian belief in the communion of saints and the sanctity of the body—in radical contrast to the Gnostic disdain for “the flesh”—led early Christians to seek out with the greatest fervor relics from the bodies of great saints. Cities, and, later, religious orders, would fight over the bones of great saints.

This is one reason why we have relics of the apostles and so many of the greatest saints and martyrs in history. Yet never was there a single relic of Mary’s body? As revered as Mary was, this would be very strange, except for the fact of the assumption of her body.

2. On the historical front, Fr. Michael O’Carroll, in his book, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, writes:

We have known for some time that there were widespread “Transitus Stories” that date from the sixth century that teach Mary’s glorious Assumption. It was the promulgation of the dogma of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII that rekindled interest in these stories of the end of Mary’s life. In 1955, Fr. A.A. Wenger published L’Assomption (p. 59).

Fr. Wenger found a Greek manuscript that verified what scholars had previously believed to be true. Because there were whole families of manuscripts from different areas of the world in the sixth century that told a similar story of Mary’s Assumption, there had to be previous manuscripts from which everyone received their data. Fr. Wenger discovered one of these earlier manuscripts, believed to be the source later used by John of Thessalonica in the sixth century in his teaching on the Assumption. Fr. O’Carroll continues:

Some years later, M. Haibach-Reinisch added to the dossier an early version of Pseudo-Melito, the most influential text in use in the Latin Church. This could now, it was clear, be dated earlier than the sixth century. . . . V. Arras claimed to have found an Ethiopian version of it which he published in 1973; its similarity to the Irish text gave the latter new status. In the same year M. Van Esbroeck brought out a Gregorian version, which he had located in Tiflis, and another, a Pseudo-Basil, in the following year, found in Mount Athos.

Much still remains to be explored. The Syriac fragments have increased importance, being put as far back as the third century by one commentator. The whole story will eventually be placed earlier, probably in the second century.

This is significant. Recently discovered Syriac fragments of stories about the Assumption of Mary have been dated as early as the third century. And there are undoubtedly more manuscripts to be found. It must be remembered that when we are talking about these “Transitus stories,” we are not only talking about ancient manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts, but we are talking also about two different “families” of manuscripts written in nine languages. They all agree on Mary’s Assumption and they presuppose that the story was already widely known.

Gnostic Fable or Christian Truth?

What about those who claim the Assumption of Mary is nothing more than a Gnostic fable? Or those who claim the historical narratives about the Assumption of Mary were condemned by Pope Gelasius I? James White, in his book Mary—Another Redeemer?, goes so far as to claim:

Basically, the first appearance of the idea of the Bodily Assumption of Mary is found in a source that was condemned by the then-bishop of Rome, Gelasius I! The irony is striking: what was defined by the bishop of Rome as heresy at the end of the fifth century becomes dogma itself in the middle of the twentieth! (p. 54).

Mr. White’s reasoning fails for several reasons.

1. Even if it were a papal document, Decretum Gelasianum would not be a “definition” by the bishop of Rome declaring the Assumption of Mary to be heresy, as White claims. The document does not make such an assertion. It gives us a rather long list of titles of apocryphal books after having listed the accepted books of the Bible. That’s all. One of these titles declared to be “apocryphal” is referred to as: “Liber qui appellatur  ‘Transitus, id est Assumptio sanctae Mariae,’” which translates as “A book which is called, ‘Having been taken up, that is, the Assumption of Holy Mary.’”

White evidently thought this document condemned as untrue the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. But it did not. As a matter of history, this document does not condemn any doctrines in the books it lists at all; it declares the books themselves to be apocryphal and therefore not part of the canon of Scripture.

This would be something akin to the Church’s rejection of The Assumption of Moses and The Book of Enoch as apocryphal works. The fact that these works are apocryphal does not preclude St. Jude (9; 14) from quoting both of them in Sacred Scripture. Because a work is declared apocryphal or even condemned does not mean that there is no truth at all to be found in it.

2. There is a real question among scholars today as to whether Pope Gelasius wrote what is popularly called the Dectretum Gelasianum. According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Faith (p. 462), it was probably written in the sixth century (Pope Gelasius died in the late fifth century) in Italy or Gaul and was most likely not a papal work at all. In fact, it was falsely attributed to several different popes over the years.

3. If the pope had genuinely condemned the teaching of the Assumption, great saints and defenders of orthodoxy such as St. Gregory and later St. John Damascene would not have taught it. Further, we would have found other writers condemning this teaching as it became more and more popular throughout the world. And we certainly would not see the Assumption celebrated in the liturgy as we do as early as the fifth century in Palestine, Gaul in the sixth, universally in the East in the seventh century, and in the West in the eighth century. Far from a condemnation of the Assumption, this reveals just how widespread this teaching truly was.

Why Don’t the Earliest Fathers Write About the Assumption?

The most obvious reason would be that when Gnostics, who were some of the main enemies of the Faith in the early centuries of the Christian era, agreed with the Church on the matter, there would have been no need to defend the teaching. In other words, there is no record of anyone disagreeing on the matter. We don’t find works from the earliest Fathers on Jesus’ celibacy either, but that too was most likely due to the universal agreement on the topic. Much of early Christian literature was apologetic in nature. Like the New Testament, it mostly dealt with problem areas in the Church that needed to be addressed.

Even so, it is not as though there is no written evidence to support the Assumption either. According to Fr. O’Carroll (Theotokos, 388), we now have what some believe to be a fourth-century homily on the prophet Simeon and the Blessed Virgin Mary by Timothy, a priest of Jerusalem, which asserts Mary is “immortal to the present time through him who had his abode in her and who assumed and raised her above the higher regions.”

Evidently, there was disagreement in the circulating stories of the Assumption of Mary as to whether she was taken up alive or after having died. But whether or not she was assumed was not in question. Indeed, the Church even to this day has not decided definitively the matter of whether Mary died or not, though at the level of the Ordinary Magisterium it does teach that Mary died—for example, in Pope Pius XII’s Munificentissimus Deus, 17, 20, 21, 29, 35, 39, and 40.

Rethinking St. Epiphanius

I believe St. Epiphanius’s work needs to be reexamined when it comes to the Assumption of Mary. This great bishop and defender of orthodoxy may give us key insights into the antiquity of the Assumption, writing in ca. A.D. 350. In his classic Panarion (“breadbox”) or Refutation of All Heresies, he includes eighty-eight sections dealing with scores of the most dangerous heresies of his day. In sections 78 and 79, he deals with one particular sect comprised mainly of women called the “Collyridians.” Evidently, this sect was “ordaining” women as “priestesses” and adoring Mary as a goddess by offering sacrifice to her. St. Epiphanius condemns this in the strongest of terms:

For I have heard in turn that others who are out of their minds on this subject of this holy Ever-virgin, have done their best and are doing their best, in the grip both of madness and of folly, to substitute her for God. For they say that certain Thracian women there in Arabia have introduced this nonsense, and that they bake a loaf in the name of the Ever-virgin, gather together, and attempt an excess and undertake a forbidden, blasphemous act in the holy Virgin’s name, and offer sacrifice in her name with women officiants.

This is entirely impious, unlawful, and different from the Holy Spirit’s message, and is thus pure devil’s work . . .

And nowhere was a woman a priest. But I shall go to the New Testament. If it were ordained by God that women should be priests or have any canonical function in the Church, Mary herself, if anyone, should have functioned as a priest in the New Testament. She was counted worthy to bear the king of all in her own womb, the heavenly God, the Son of God. Her womb became a temple, and by God’s kindness and an awesome mystery, was prepared to be a dwelling place of the Lord’s human nature. But it was not God’s pleasure that she be a priest.

These women who were adoring Mary as if she were a goddess would no doubt have been well acquainted with the “Transitus Stories” and would have been teaching Mary’s Assumption. In fact, it appears they were teaching Mary never died at all. This would be in keeping with John of Thessalonica, Timothy of Jerusalem, and others who taught this among Christians. However, these women were taking Mary and the Assumption to the extreme by worshiping her. What is interesting here is that in the midst of condemning the Collyridians, St. Epiphanius gives us, in section 79 of Panarion, a point-blank statement that is overlooked today by many:

Like the bodies of the saints, however, she has been held in honor for her character and understanding. And if I should say anything more in her praise, she is like Elijah, who was virgin from his mother’s womb, always remained so, and was taken up, but has not seen death.

St. Epiphanius clearly indicates his personal agreement with the idea that Mary was assumed into heaven without ever having died. He will elsewhere clarify the fact that he is not certain, and no one is, at least not definitively so, about whether or not she died. But he never says the same about the Assumption itself. That did not seem to be in doubt. By comparing her to Elijah, he indicates that she was taken up bodily, just as the Church continues to teach 1,600 years later.

A Final Thought

Since the time of the promulgation of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, there has been much new discovery. We now have written evidence of belief in the Assumption of Mary as far back as the third century. Though it is not necessary for there to be written evidence all the way back to the second century for us as Catholics because we have Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church first and foremost that has already given us the truth of the Matter, I believe it is really exciting that new historical discoveries continue to be made and once again . . . and again . . . and again, they confirm the Faith of our Fathers.

If you enjoyed this, and you would like to learn more, click here.

Love,
Matthew

The Saints


-by Jason Evert

1. Since the Bible says that contacting in the dead is the abominable sin of necromancy (Deut. 18:10–12), the intercession of the saints seems blasphemous to me.

This objection to the intercession of saints is an honorable and sincere one. It expresses a disposition that all Christians must have—refusing to do anything that takes away from the adoration that belongs only to God. When this objection is raised, you should affirm that if praying to saints takes away from one’s devotion to God, then it is a practice that should end at once. Expressing this to an evangelical Christian will help alleviate his presumption that you may not be as interested in serving God with single-heartedness.

When the Bible mentions necromancy, it condemns the practice of conjuring up the dead, as Saul did through the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28. When Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration, this was not necromancy. When David asked the angels of heaven to bless the Lord, this also was not offensive to God (Ps.103:20–21). Likewise, when a Catholic asks St. Peter to pray for him, he is not conjuring up a spirit from Hades in order to acquire secret knowledge. After all, those in heaven are “like the angels,” and are more alive than we are, since the Lord is “not God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:36–38). So, if it does not offend God when a Catholic says “St. Peter, pray for me,” we should all rejoice that God has given us the gift of Peter’s prayers.

2. But if you pray to the saints you are worshiping them.

Whenever discussing a doctrine, it is always effective to define your terms. “Pray” is an Old English word that means simply “to ask.” In Protestant theology, the word has become synonymous with worship, but that is not the original use of the term.

Any time a Catholic utters a petition to a saint, it is taken for granted that it is a request for that saint to pray to God for them. For example, the “Hail Mary” contains the request, “pray for us sinners.” If you ask a person to pray for you, it proves that you do not think that he is God. What needs to be stressed here is that none of our prayers terminate in the saints, as if they had the power in and of themselves to answer prayers.

3. If I had a problem at work, why would I take it to the volunteers in the mailroom if I were friends with the CEO himself? After all, doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus is our one mediator (1 Tim. 2:5)?

The flaw in this objection is that it proves too much. For if Catholics should not ask those in heaven for their prayers since we can go straight to Jesus, then no Christian on earth should ask a fellow believer for his prayers. When one believer asks another for his prayers, it is not because God is too distant or callous to listen to him. On the contrary, God is so generous he has given the body of Christ such unity that each member can pray for the others. This is a great gift, for “the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (Jas. 5:16), and the angels and saints in heaven are inarguably righteous.

Though the Bible tells us that we must go to God in our necessities, it also encourages us to ask for each other’s prayers. After all, salvation is a family affair. Can the eye say to the hand, “I need you not?” Neither should we say that we don’t need the prayers of the rest of the body of Christ (on earth or in heaven).

Immediately after requesting that we pray for each other in 1 Timothy 2:1–4, Paul affirms that Christ is the one mediator. Again, let us define our terms. A mediator is one who comes between two parties with the purpose of uniting them. Christ played a role of mediation that only the God-man could, but Christians are still called to serve as mediators between Christ and the world. In no way does this diminish the unique work of Christ. On the contrary, it manifests it.

For example, Christ is our only high priest, but we are all called to be a nation of priests (1 Pet. 2:9). Christ is the only Son of God, yet we are made sons of God through adoption (Gal. 3:4). The Christian life consists in being conformed to Christ, and as Paul says, being “God’s fellow-workers” (1 Cor. 3:9) in his plan of salvation.

4. Aren’t the saints in heaven busy worshiping God?

Sometimes when discussing doctrines, it is helpful to take a step back and look at the objection from a different angle. So invite the person you are speaking with to imagine a man who spent 80 years on earth serving the Lord and praying fervently for everyone in need. After passing away, he walked across the clouds to the Pearly Gates. St. Peter checked the book, his name was there, and he was ready to enter. As he walked through the gates, he noticed a poem on a large sign that read, “Welcome to the Father’s house; we hope you enjoy your stay. In heaven, you may worship God, but you’re not allowed to pray.”

To think of those in heaven as unwilling or unable to pray for us is to have a grave misconception of heaven. It is not an isolated part of the body of Christ that exists without concern for the other members of the body who are still working out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Those in heaven surround us as a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), and the book of Revelation teaches that the prayers they offer for us “saints” is an integral part of the eternal worship given to God.

John describes the heavenly worship in these terms: “The twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). The angels also play a role in bringing our prayers to God: “The smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God” (Rev. 8:4). If intercession among members of the body of Christ on earth is “good and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Tim. 2:1–4), how would such behavior not also be pleasing to God in heaven?

In the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19–31), the rich man shows concern for his family on earth, even though he is in hell. If a person in hell has such concern, and those in heaven are perfected in love and can finally pray with an undivided heart for the Church of God, how could they not be concerned about our salvation?

5. How can the saints hear our prayers?

Along with the concern about the “worshiping of saints” by praying to them, the question of their ability to hear us is among the most frequent of Protestant concerns. The book of Revelation is especially helpful in dealing with this, since it describes people in heaven who are aware of the happenings on earth (Rev. 6:11; 7:13–14). They have this capacity according to God’s designs and not of their own power. Paul alluded to this when he said, “Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Those in heaven are part of the mystical body of Christ, and have not been separated from us by death. Christ is the vine, and we are the branches. So, if we are connected to him, we are inseparably bound together with them as well. Thus, the angels and saints stand before the throne of God, offer our prayers to him, and cheer us on as we run the good race.

If those in heaven are of no help to us, is it that they do not care, or does God forbid them to know of our toil and render them incapable of praying for us? Encourage the person you are speaking with to take this to prayer, asking the Father if this is truly his plan for the body of Christ.

6. There are one billion Catholics and 300 million Orthodox. If one in a hundred of these prayed a daily rosary, Mary would receive 689 million Hail Marys each day! So, even if she could hear the prayers, she’d have to be omniscient to comprehend them all. And where would she get the time?

Since Mary is in heaven, it is literally true that she does not have time to answer all the petitions—she has eternity. Time in the afterlife is not the same as it is here, and so this is not an insurmountable objection.

In regard to the number of petitions, if the number were infinite, then an omniscient mind would be required. So long as the number is finite, then the hearer requires a finite expansion of knowledge, which God could certainly grant to a glorified soul in heaven. While discussing this, you could point out that 50 people in an Internet chat room can communicate simultaneously from around the world. If modern technology can enable humans to do this, God is infinitely capable “by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).

When concluding any conversation—especially one on the intercession of the saints—it is always good to promise to pray for each other. Not only will this benefit both of you in the realm of grace, it will remind your friend that the body of Christ is a great gift to draw us near to God.

Love,
Matthew

Marriage – heroic virtue

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“I could not have imagined the effect that Catholic faith would have on my marriage. I could not have imagined how I would come to regard my wife with so much more dignity.”

…Catholicism might look good on paper, [my wife, a Catholic revert] thought, but it never worked out in real life. And there is real truth in this criticism. There are many Catholics who do not cooperate with grace, who do not have faith, and who make little attempt to follow Church teaching. I have had fellow Catholics who advised me to avoid confession, to disbelieve Church teaching about marriage and sex, and even to divorce my wife.

There were many times in my marriage when what sustained me most of all was the example of my parents. Though my parents were not Catholic, they lived the most important Catholic truth about marriage better than many Catholics do: They were dead set against divorce, no matter what. Burn your parachute; hang on like mad; and do whatever it takes to stick in there. Without that example, I do not know if I would have made it.

Inspired by my parents, I had to look deeper and deeper to find the grace necessary to live that demand. Ultimately, that search led me and my wife to the Catholic Church. It is no credit to me; I really credit my wife with having the courage and conviction to take up the Faith with both hands, to plunge into the depth of the sacraments, to embrace the Cross, and to strive for a life of contemplative prayer. She cooperated with grace, and the result was the transformation of everything.

There has been a lot of conversation recently about the Catholic doctrine on marriage, including about how strictly pastors should insist on the Church’s “hard teachings.” But let me tell you this: The hard teachings saved me. I did not know about nuance or mitigating circumstances. I did know that I had a moral obligation to save my marriage or die trying. Had I really believed there was any other permissible option, my marriage would not have survived — and I am so glad that my marriage survived.

Why does Christ call Christian couples to such a high standard of fidelity, even to the point of embracing the cross of suffering? The reason is that Christian marriage is no mere human contract. It is a mystical participation in the sacrificial, self-giving love of Christ for His Church (Eph. 5). It is a special vocation to holiness, an ecclesial state in the same way that priesthood or religious life is an ecclesial state. Christian marriage participates in the sacramental mission of the Church to bring Christ to the world.

Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.41

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (p. 162-163). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

41 Familiaris Consortio, no. 13.

Grace & marriage

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“In 1930, the Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference resulted in a statement that made a seismic shift in Christian thinking and practice by opening the door to allowing contraception and allowing remarriage after divorce. Pope Pius XII knew this required a response to let the world know that the Catholic Church had not and would not follow suit. The result was Casti Connubii, a wise and beautiful encyclical letter about Christian marriage.

The pope reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to divorce and to birth control, but he also acknowledged that these standards are difficult. The Holy Father did not offer an easy solution; on the contrary, he freely admitted that many Catholics find them impossible. The fault, however, does not lie with God but with us. Pius cited the Council of Trent, which teaches that God never demands the impossible of us: He always supplies the necessary grace.

If God supplies the grace, then why do some Catholics find the moral demands of marriage to be impossible? The pope’s answer is astonishing for its realism and honesty. They find it impossible, he says, because they do not cooperate with grace. They do not live the faith generously. They are unwilling to sacrifice. If they do not do everything in their power — if they select only those parts of the Faith they like, or if they do not give themselves to prayer and the sacraments — then the grace of matrimony will be an unused talent hidden in the field (see Matt. 25:14–30). The pope explains:

Nevertheless, since it is a law of divine Providence in the supernatural order that men do not reap the full fruit of the Sacraments which they receive after acquiring the use of reason unless they cooperate with grace, the grace of matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in the field unless the parties exercise these supernatural powers and cultivate and develop the seeds of grace they have received. If, however, doing all that lies with their power, they cooperate diligently, they will be able with ease to bear the burdens of their state and to fulfill their duties. By such a sacrament they will be strengthened, sanctified and in a manner consecrated.39

Catholics who reject Church teaching and do not vigorously practice their Faith simply should not expect grace from the sacrament. It may sound harsh, but they should not be surprised if their marriages fail. On the other hand, Catholics who believe the Church and practice their Faith can be confident that God will supply the necessary grace.

What is necessary in order to cooperate with the grace offered in the sacrament of matrimony? This is something that Pope John Paul II wrote about extensively. In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, he explains that couples must accept and follow Church teaching on human sexuality, prayer, and the sacraments. He writes:

There is no doubt that these conditions [for receiving the grace] must include persistence and patience, humility and strength of mind, filial trust in God and in His grace, and frequent recourse to prayer and to the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation. Thus strengthened, Christian husbands and wives will be able to keep alive their awareness of the unique influence that the grace of the sacrament of marriage has on every aspect of married life, including therefore their sexuality: the gift of the Spirit, accepted and responded to by husband and wife, helps them to live their human sexuality in accordance with God’s plan and as a sign of the unitive and fruitful love of Christ for His Church. (33)

…Married love does not exist for the purpose of romantic gratification. Married love exists “to lead the spouses to God” and to strengthen them in the “sublime office of being a mother or a father.”40

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (p. 160-161). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

33 Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. D. W. Robertson (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 65.
39 Casti Connubii, no. 41.
40 Gaudium et Spes, no. 48.

Res cogitans, extensa, Cartesian dualism, accidents, transgenderism & Siri


-by Karlo Broussard

“Have your kids ever peppered your phone’s intelligent personal assistant with random questions? Mine do all the time. It’s a lot a fun when we do it together—the kids get a kick out of it, especially when they start asking potty questions.

Just last night we were having fun asking Siri a variety of questions, and I told my children to ask, “Are you male or female?” to which Siri responded, “I don’t think that really matters.”

I acknowledge that Siri is correct, since artificial intelligences don’t have sexed bodies. But her answer does give us something to consider, since it’s the mantra of the modern transgender movement. Let’s think this argument through.

Two “-isms”

Advocates of transgenderism argue that our sexed bodies have nothing to do with our personal identity, which is why they think it’s possible that a person’s identity as male or female doesn’t have to be in conformity with his or her biological sex. If a person thinks such disharmony exists, they argue, then he or she should be able to harmonize it by conforming to his or her desired identity.

It’s a form of dualism, and the idea is not unprecedented. It dates back as early as the writings of Plato and became predominant in modern philosophy with the writings of the seventeenth-century philosopher Renes Descartes. Descartes made this view so popular that it is now known by his name: Cartesian dualism.

Descartes taught that the human person is divided into two separate substances: a mental substance (the soul—res cogitans) and a corporeal substance (the body—res extensa). For Descartes, the substance that constitutes who you are as a person is the res cogitans—“the thinking self.” And rather than the body being essential to a person’s identity, as understood in the views of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, it is merely accidental (not belonging to the essence). For Descartes, the body is merely a machine in which the soul exists as a ghost—hence the phrase “ghost in the machine.”

closeup of a transgender symbol painted in the palm of the hand of a young caucasian person

Constructing your argument

Cartesian anthropology has seeped into the well of our culture, so to speak. Since transgenderism—which holds that a person’s sexed body is separate from the person—entails Cartesian dualism (the body is separate from the person), we have to ask, “Is Cartesian dualism true?” If Cartesian dualism is not true, then transgenderism is also not true.

Following the lead of philosopher Dr. Scott Sullivan, PhD, in his recent book Why Transgenderism is Wrong: A Critique of the Philosophical Assumptions Behind Modern Transgender Theory, we can construct the following syllogism:

P1: If transgenderism is true, then Cartesian dualism is true.
P2: Cartesian dualism is false.
Therefore, transgenderism is false.

I will focus on premise two, and to do that I’ll give two arguments that favor the view that the body is not separate from a person’s identity.

From the inside

The first is from the inside. Notice that as you read this article you sense the words on the screen and at the same time you understand their meaning (unless, of course, I haven’t expressed myself clearly enough). It’s not as if you understand the words but only your body sees the words. In the technical jargon, there is one subject of action, you, who both sees and thinks.

It is this fact of human experience that led St. Thomas Aquinas to conclude that the body is not separate from a person but is essential:

It is one and the same man who is conscious both that he understands and that he senses. But one cannot sense without a body: therefore, the body must be some part of man (Summa Theologiae, I:76:1).

If you are reading the words on the screen and sensing the words involves the body, then it necessarily follows that your body is not separate from you—like a car is separate from a driver—but your body with its biological design is you. In other words, the body that allows you to sense the words is essential to your identity as a human person, along with your rational soul that enables you to understand the meaning of the words.  (Ed.  upon death we understand clearly the soul leaving the body.  just body left, and just a body doesn’t understand anything.  it’s dead.) You are not your soul alone, nor are you your body alone, but you are both body and soul. Philosophers call this view hylemorphism(aka hylomorphism) (Greek, hyle, “matter”; morphe, “form”).

From the outside

The second argument is metaphysical—it takes a third-person point of view by looking at the relation between the body and soul. On a basic level, the soul is that which makes a thing living (ST I-II:75:1). This is the distinguishing factor between animate and inanimate beings.  (Ed. the idea of “soul” as animating living creatures goes back to ancient Greek philosophy. cf Mk 12:27, Lk 20:38 )

But as we inquire further, we discover that the soul also makes a living thing the kind of living thing it is with its unique powers. If the soul of a living thing is its vital principle, which it is, then it necessarily follows that the soul is also the principle of that thing’s vital activities. And since it is obvious that there are different living things with different types of activities, then there must be different types of souls.

For example, plants take in nutrients, grow, and reproduce but do not have the powers of sensation and locomotion like animals. Therefore, plants must have a different kind of soul than animals. This is a vegetative or nutritive soul. Non-rational animals have the powers of sensation and locomotion, along with all the vegetative powers, but do not have rational powers—namely, intellect and will.

So not only do non-rational animals have a different soul than plants, they have a different kind of soul than humans. This is a sensory soul. Human beings stand at the pinnacle of living organisms, embodying all the powers of the vegetative and sensory souls plus their distinct powers of intellect and will. Philosophers call this kind of soul a rational soul.

Now, just like the vegetative soul is the principle of all the powers of plants, and the sensory soul is the principle of all the powers of animals, the rational soul is the principle of all human powers: vegetative, sensitive, and rational (ST I:76:1). As Aquinas concludes, since the vegetative and sensitive powers belong to the human body, and the rational soul is the principle of those bodily powers, the soul is the “form” of the body (ST I:76:1).

What this means is that the soul is so united to the body that the two make one substance: a human being. Converse to the idea of Cartesian dualism, humans are not a “ghost in a machine.” Both your soul and your body make up who you are as a human being.

Our sexed bodies do matter

If my body and soul together make up the one substance that I am, then it necessarily follows that my male body together with my soul makes me who I am. My male body is not an accident (Ed. philosophy, (in Aristotelian thought) a property of a thing which is not essential to its nature) to my personal identity that I can change like my hair color (that is, if I had hair). My male body is essential to who I am as an individual human person.

Although we can excuse Siri for dodging the male-female question, we cannot do so for embodied real intelligences—namely, human beings. Genesis 1:27 was right all along: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Love & truth,
Matthew