Category Archives: Apologetics

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.

CCC 2113 “Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast” refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.”


-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

Sola Scriptura is unbiblical


-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.

During his four-year tour, he became involved in ministry with various Assemblies of God communities. Immediately after his tour of duty, Tim enrolled in Jimmy Swaggart Bible College and became a youth minister in an Assembly of God community. During his final year in the Marines, however, Tim met a Marine who really knew his faith and challenged Tim to study Catholicism from Catholic and historical sources. That encounter sparked a two-year search for the truth. Tim was determined to prove Catholicism wrong, but he ended up studying his way to the last place he thought he would ever end up: the Catholic Church!

He converted to Catholicism in 1988 and spent the following six years in formation for the priesthood, earning a degree in philosophy from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. He then studied theology on a graduate level at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for two years. Realizing that his calling was not to the priesthood, Tim left the seminary in 1994 and has been working in Catholic apologetics and evangelization ever since.

“Sola Scriptura was the central doctrine and foundation for all I believed when I was Protestant. On a popular level, it simply meant, “If a teaching isn’t explicit in the Bible, then we don’t accept it as doctrine!” And it seemed so simple. Unassailable. And yet, I do not recall ever hearing a detailed teaching explicating it. It was always a given. Unchallenged. Diving deeper into its meaning, especially when I was challenged to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism, I found there to be no book specifically on the topic and no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors.

Once I got past the superficial, I had to try to answer real questions like, what role does tradition play? How explicit does a doctrine have to be in Scripture before it can be called doctrine? How many times does it have to be mentioned in Scripture before it would be dogmatic? Where does Scripture tell us what is absolutely essential for us to believe as Christians? How do we know what the canon of Scripture is using the principle of sola scriptura? Who is authorized to write Scripture in the first place? When was the canon closed? Or, the best question of all: where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible? These questions and more were left virtually unanswered or left to the varying opinions of various Bible teachers.

The Protestant Response

In answer to this last question, “Where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible?” most Protestants will immediately respond as I did, by simply citing II Tm. 3:16:

“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

“How can it get any plainer than that? Doesn’t that say the Bible is all we need?” Question answered.

The fact is: II Timothy 3—or any other text of Scripture—does not even hint at sola scriptura. It says Scripture is inspired and necessary to equip “the man of God,” but never does it say Scripture alone is all anyone needs. We’ll come back to this text in particular later. But in my experience as a Protestant, it was my attempt to defend this bedrock teaching of Protestantism that led me to conclude: sola scriptura is 1) unreasonable 2) unbiblical and 3) unworkable.

Sola Scriptura is Unreasonable

When defending sola scriptura, the Protestant will predictably appeal to his sole authority—Scripture. This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of circular reasoning which betrays an essential problem with the doctrine itself. One cannot prove the inspiration of a text from the text itself. The Book of Mormon, the Hindu Vedas, writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Koran, and other books claim inspiration. This does not make them inspired. One must prove the point outside of the text itself to avoid the fallacy of circular reasoning.

Thus, the question remains: how do we know the various books of the Bible are inspired and therefore canonical? And remember: the Protestant must use the principle of sola scriptura in the process.

II Tim. 3:16 is not a valid response to the question. The problems are manifold. Beyond the fact of circular reasoning, for example, I would point out the fact that this verse says all Scripture is inspired tells us nothing of what the canon consists. Just recently, I was speaking with a Protestant inquirer about this issue and he saw my point. He then said words to the effect of, “I believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth as Jesus said in Jn. 16:13. The Holy Spirit guided the early Christians and helped them to gather the canon of Scripture and declare it to be the inspired word of God. God would not leave us without his word to guide us.”

That answer is much more Catholic than Protestant! Yes, Jn. 16:13 does say the Spirit will lead the apostles—and by allusion, the Church—into all truth. But this verse has nothing to say about sola scriptura. Nor does it say a word about the nature or number of books in the canon. Catholics certainly agree that the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to canonize the Scriptures because the Catholic Church teaches that there is an authoritative Church guided by the Holy Spirit. The obvious problem is my Protestant friend did not use sola scriptura as his guiding principle to arrive at his conclusion. How does, for example, Jn. 16:13 tell us that Hebrews was written by an apostolic writer and that it is inspired of God? We would ultimately have to rely on the infallibility of whoever “the Holy Spirit” is guiding to canonize the Bible so that they could not mishear what the Spirit was saying about which books of the Bible are truly inspired.

In order to put this argument of my friend into perspective, can you imagine if a Catholic made a similar claim to demonstrate, say, Mary to be the Mother of God? “We believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and guided the early Christians to declare this truth.” I can almost hear the response. “Show me in the Bible where Mary is the Mother of God! I don’t want to hear about God guiding the Church!” Wouldn’t the same question remain for the Protestant concerning the canon? “Show me in the Bible where the canon of Scripture is, what the criterion for the canon is, who can and cannot write Scripture, etc.”

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

The Protestant response at this point is often an attempt to use the same argument against the Catholic. “How do you know the Scriptures are inspired? Your reasoning is just as circular because you say the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so and then say the Scriptures are inspired and infallible because the Church says so!”

The Catholic Church’s position on inspiration is not circular. We do not say “the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so, and the Scriptures are inspired because the infallible Church says so.” That would be a kind of circular reasoning. The Church was established historically and functioned as the infallible spokesperson for the Lord decades before the New Testament was written. The Church is infallible because Jesus said so.

Having said that, it is true that we know the Scriptures to be inspired because the Church has told us so. That is also an historical fact. However, this is not circular reasoning. When the Catholic approaches Scripture, he or she begins with the Bible as an historical document, not as inspired. As any reputable historian will tell you, the New Testament is the most accurate and verifiable historical document in all of ancient history. To deny the substance of the historical documents recorded therein would be absurd. However, one cannot deduce from this that they are inspired. There are many accurate historical documents that are not inspired. However, the Scriptures do give us accurate historical information whether one holds to their inspiration or not. Further, this testimony of the Bible is backed up by hundreds of works by early Christians and non-Christian writers like Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and more. It is on this basis that we can say it is an historical fact that Jesus lived, died, and was reported to be resurrected from the dead by over 500 eyewitnesses. Many of these eyewitnesses went to their deaths testifying to the veracity of the Christ-event (see Lk. 1:1-4, Jn. 21:18-19, 24-25, Acts 1:1-11, I Cr. 15:1-8).

Now, what do we find when we examine the historical record? Jesus Christ—as a matter of history–established a Church, not a book, to be the foundation of the Christian Faith (see Mt. 16:15-18; 18:15-18. Cf. Eph. 2:20; 3:10,20-21; 4:11-15; I Tm. 3:15; Hb. 13:7,17, etc.). He said of his Church, “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). The many books that comprise what we call the Bible never tell us crucial truths such as the fact that they are inspired, who can and cannot be the human authors of them, who authored them at all, or, as I said before, what the canon of Scripture is in the first place. And this is just to name a few examples. What is very clear historically is that Jesus established a kingdom with a hierarchy and authority to speak for him (see Lk. 20:29-32, Mt. 10:40, 28:18-20). It was members of this Kingdom—the Church—that would write the Scripture, preserve its many texts and eventually canonize it. The Scriptures cannot write or canonize themselves. To put it simply, reason clearly rejects sola scriptura as a self-refuting principle because one cannot determine what the “scriptura” is using the principle of sola scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical

Let us now consider the most common text used by Protestants to “prove” sola scriptura, II Tm. 3:16, which I quoted above:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The problem with using this text as such is threefold: 1. Strictly speaking, it does not speak of the New Testament at all. 2. It does not claim Scripture to be the sole rule of faith for Christians. 3. The Bible teaches oral Tradition to be on a par with and just as necessary as the written Tradition, or Scripture.

1. What’s Old is Not New

Let us examine the context of the passage by reading the two preceding verses:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood (italics added) you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, this passage does not refer to the New Testament at all. None of the New Testament books had been written when St. Timothy was a child! To claim this verse in order to authenticate a book, say, the book of Revelation, when it had most likely not even been written yet, is more than a stretch. That is going far beyond what the text actually claims.

2. The Trouble With Sola

As a Protestant, I was guilty of seeing more than one sola in Scripture that simply did not exist. The Bible clearly teaches justification by faith. And we Catholics believe it. However, we do not believe in justification by faith alone because, among many other reasons, the Bible says, we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, emphasis added). Analogously, when the Bible says Scripture is inspired and profitable for “the man of God,” to be “equipped for every good work,” we Catholics believe it. However, the text of II Tim. 3:16 never says Scripture alone. There is no sola to be found here either! Even if we granted II Tm. 3:16 was talking about all of Scripture, it never claims Scripture to be the sole rule of faith. A rule of faith, to be sure! But not the sole rule of faith.

James 1:4 illustrates clearly the problem with Protestant exegesis of II Tim. 3:16:

And let steadfastness (patience) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If we apply the same principle of exegesis to this text that the Protestant does to II Tm. 3:16 we would have to say that all we need is patience to be perfected. We don’t need faith, hope, charity, the Church, baptism, etc.

Of course, any Christian would immediately say this is absurd. And of course it is. But James’s emphasis on the central importance of patience is even stronger than St. Paul’s emphasis on Scripture. The key is to see that there is not a sola to be found in either text. Sola patientia would be just as much an error as is sola scriptura.

3. The Tradition of God is the Word of God

Not only is the Bible silent when it comes to sola scriptura, but Scripture is remarkably plain in teaching oral Tradition to be just as much the word of God as is Scripture. In what most scholars believe was the first book written in the New Testament, St. Paul said:

And we also thank God… that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God… (I Thess. 2:13)

II Thess. 2:15 adds:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions you have been taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

According to St. Paul, the spoken word from the apostles was just as much the word of God as was the later written word.

Sola Scriptura is Unworkable

When it comes to the tradition of Protestantism—sola scriptura—the silence of the text of Scripture is deafening. When it comes to the true authority of Scripture and Tradition, the Scriptures are clear. And when it comes to the teaching and governing authority of the Church, the biblical text is equally as clear:

If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone … But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you … If he refuses to listen … tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mt. 18:15-17)

According to Scripture, the Church—not the Bible alone—is the final court of appeal for the people of God in matters of faith and discipline. But isn’t it also telling that since the Reformation of just ca. 480 years ago—a reformation claiming sola scriptura as its formal principle—there are now over 33,000 denominations that have derived from it?

For 1,500 years, Christianity saw just a few enduring schisms (the Monophysites, Nestorians, the Orthodox, and a very few others). Now in just 480 years we have this? I hardly think that when Jesus prophesied there would be “one shepherd and one fold” in Jn. 10:16, this is what he had in mind. It seems quite clear to me that not only is sola scriptura unreasonable and unbiblical, but it is unworkable. The proof is in the puddin’!”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Is Mindfulness harmful? dos


-by Connie Rossini

“The Spanish bishops note that people often ask them about authentic Catholic spirituality as opposed to Eastern meditation techniques. We read: “We want to offer criteria to discern which elements of other widespread religious traditions can be integrated into a Christian praxis of prayer to aid ecclesial institutions and groups to provide paths of spirituality with a well-defined Christian identity, responding to this pastoral challenge with creativity and, at the same time, with fidelity to the richness and depth of the Christian tradition” (no. 6).

They remind us of the adage, lex orandi, lex credendi, which translates roughly as “the Church believes as she prays.” If we are to maintain our faith in this post-Christian culture, and help others to do so as well, it is vital that we pray as Christians. Indulging in practices from other religions – no matter what our intent – may distort our views of God, the human person, and the goal of life. We cannot just co-opt practices from other traditions.

Certain theological truths underlie all Christian prayer. The bishops highlight the uniqueness of the Incarnation. Jesus alone is both fully God and fully man. Thus, any spirituality or spiritual practice that minimizes his role, making him into simply an example of how we all have the divine within us, is opposed to Christianity. The bishops also reject the idea that we cannot know the truth about God. Jesus came to reveal God to us. He is the one way to God. He and his words are truth.

Finally, they write, “It is important to note that in our culture, the Christian idea of salvation has been replaced by the desire of immanent forms of happiness, material welfare, and the progress of humanity” (no. 10). We will ultimately find these things to be empty. When that emptiness yawns before us, it’s easy to instead look for happiness in personal wellness. Then our focus turns inward, instead of outward to God. We become concerned with self, rather than the other. This danger, as we will see, is present in all forms of Eastern (non-Christian) meditation.

In reading documents like this, I sometimes long to see a list of problematic practices. It would make discernment and teaching about prayer so much easier! But the bishops of Spain, like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, give us instead principles by which to judge whether a given practice is compatible with Christian prayer. Thus, they teach us about authentic Christian prayer at the same time that they warn against error. They account for new practices that may arise in the future. They expect us to examine prayer and meditation practices in light of these principles.

And yet, they did decide to focus in on perhaps the biggest current fad in both secular and Christian circles respecting meditation: mindfulness. The bishops write, “In many spheres of our society, the desire to find inner peace has favored the diffusion of meditation inspired by Zen Buddhism” (no. 11). Critics could rightly point out that Zen is only one strand of Buddhism, and that mindfulness, for example, which is referenced in a footnote, is not particular to Zen. Neither do some of the other popular meditation techniques come from Zen. But this is the term the Spanish bishops chose. Perhaps such usage is common in Spain. Whatever the case, it’s important to look beyond this imprecision.

The Spanish bishops hit directly at mindfulness, as well as other forms of Eastern meditation, when they say, “The reduction of prayer to [Eastern] meditation and the absence of a you as its end, turn this practice into a monologue that begins and ends in the subject itself. The Zen technique consists in observing the movements of one’s mind to calm the person and bring them into union with their own being. Understood this way, it can hardly be compatible with Christian prayer, in which the most important thing is the divine You revealed in Christ” (ibid.).

This passage contains two important points. First, Buddhist meditation is not directed toward anyone outside oneself. Therefore, instead of the dialog that should comprise prayer, it remains a monologue. It begins and ends with oneself. The second point digs deeper. Buddhist techniques consist of passively observing one’s thoughts. Typically, the practitioner cultivates a non-judgmental awareness of his thoughts, remaining distant from them intellectually and emotionally. These techniques calm one’s mind and help one connect with oneself. Christian prayer, in contrast, seeks connection with God, especially in the person of Jesus. The Spanish bishops say that these differences make Eastern meditation and Christian prayer incompatible.

The mental stillness found in Eastern meditation brings a sense of peace, but it also can cause one to disengage from the world, instead of intervening to change things for the better. “Therefore, if a person is satisfied with a certain inner serenity achieved through this method and confuses it with the peace that only God can give, it would become an obstacle to the authentic practice of Christian prayer and the encounter with God” (no. 12). It fosters complacency with one’s spiritual state, instead of moving the practitioner to grow in virtue or a desire to know God. One thinks that passivity is enough.

Finally, Buddhist practices create a non-dualistic attitude toward reality. In other words, they blur the distinctions between oneself and the world, “between the sacred and the profane, between the divine and the created” (no. 13). They end in pantheism, seeing everything as God, rather than revealing “the personal face of the Christian God.” “When deity and world are confused, and there is no otherness, any kind of prayer is useless” (ibid.). To whom would one pray?

Clearly, Buddhist meditation can obstruct the intimacy with God through Christ, which is the goal of Christian prayer. My Soul Thirsts makes one more assertion about the possible ill consequences of Christians practicing Buddhist meditation.”

Love,
Matthew

Is Mindfulness harmful? uno


-by Connie Rossini

“On September 6, the Episcopal Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith in Spain released a document entitled My Soul Thirsts for God, for the Living God: Doctrinal Orientations on Christian Prayer. It echoes the 1989 document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (in Rome), On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation. Both documents speak eloquently about the foundations of Christian prayer, while also cautioning against Eastern meditation techniques.

The document begins with a survey of the current climate regarding prayer in Spain. It could equally apply to the US or most western nations. Spain’s bishops write that the human heart is restless for God, but our culture “generates emptiness,” rather than fulfillment (no. 1). People are thus searching for spiritual fulfillment, which can lead to their taking up problematic practices.

“[M]any people—even those who grew up in a Christian environment—resort to meditation, prayer techniques and methods that have their origin in religious traditions outside Christianity and the rich spiritual heritage of the Church. In some cases, this is accompanied by the abandonment of the Catholic faith, even inadvertently. In other cases, people try to incorporate these methods as a ‘supplement’ of their faith to achieve a more intense experience of it. This assimilation is frequently done without proper discernment about its compatibility with the Christian faith, the anthropology that derives from it and with the Christian message of salvation” (no. 2).

The first thing we learn, then, is that when considering methods of prayer or meditation that originated outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, we must be cautious and discerning. These methods may not always be suitable for Catholics. Sometimes, practicing them might bring confusion regarding human nature and our need for salvation. Such practices have even led some to completely abandon the Christian faith.

The bishops of Spain note that we are living in a post-Christian culture. In Christian cultures, they say, teaching the faithful should be focused on theology and morality. But in a world that is no longer Christian, we have no commonly held faith to build upon. “[I]n this cultural context, in which so many live outside the faith, the fundamental challenge is to ‘show’ men the beauty of the face of God manifested in Christ Jesus so that they feel attracted to Him. If we want everyone to know and love Jesus Christ and, through Him, to have a personal encounter with God, the Church cannot be perceived only as a moral educator or defender of truths, but above all as a teacher of spirituality and the place where to have a profoundly human experience of the living God” (no. 5).

Many people who grew up nominally Christian have no knowledge of the vast spiritual tradition within their native faith. They mistakenly think that they know what Christianity has to offer, and that it is lacking. Popular fads, like the current fad of mindfulness that has swept through the West, seem to offer a spirituality that can satisfy their thirst.

How can we bring such people back to the faith? We must help them to encounter Jesus. By teaching them about the richness of Christian prayer and how it can lead to intimate union with God, we can direct their thirst toward the only One who can really satisfy them.”

Love,
Matthew