Category Archives: Scripture

Whom do you trust? The Real Presence, the Gospel, and traditional Christianity


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

“There are a great many intelligent Protestant Christians, well-versed in Scripture, faithfully seeking to know and follow the will of God, who have concluded that Jesus’ words about the bread and wine of the Last Supper becoming his body and blood are merely symbolic.

What if they’re right?

At first, it seems as though such a revelation would be a tragedy. Receiving the Eucharist is the most intimate encounter with Jesus Christ possible this side of eternity. Suddenly to discover that this intimacy was a sham, and that what we thought was God was actually just bread, would be disheartening, to put the matter mildly. Worse, it would mean that those hours spent in adoration were something approaching idolatry rather than proper worship of God.

But the true tragedy would be greater still—it would mean that the Church has been wrong about the Eucharist from the beginning. For the earliest Christians universally believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The well-respected early Church historian J.N.D. Kelly, a Protestant, has acknowledged that “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood” (Early Christian Doctrines, 440).

Take, for example, the church at Smyrna, in modern-day Turkey. In the latter half of the first century, the apostle John had delivered a message directly from Jesus Christ to the Smyrnaeans, encouraging them in their faithfulness amid their sufferings (Rev. 2:8-11). Shortly thereafter, a student of John, St. Ignatius of Antioch, wrote to this same local church on his way to be martyred in Rome early in the second century.

In his letter, Ignatius warns the Smyrnaeans to “keep aloof from” the heretical Gnostics “because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 7). Notice that Ignatius doesn’t feel the need to convince his readers of the truth of the Real Presence. For him, it’s enough to say that since the Gnostics reject the Real Presence, we should not even “speak of them either in private or in public.”

This is the way that Christians approached the Eucharist throughout the first few centuries of the Church. It was not just that a theologian here or there taught the Real Presence, but that it was the Christian position on the topic. In a series of lessons given to catechumens about to enter the Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem reminded them that “you have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ” (Catechetical Lecture 22). Cyril is comfortable assuming that even those not yet baptized know enough about Christianity to realize that Christians believe in the Real Presence.

Even more telling than the many Church Fathers teaching and preaching on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the absence of Christian leaders either rejecting this Catholic position or teaching a contrary position.

If a Baptist pastor got up on Sunday and declared that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, you could expect that there would be angry letters denouncing him as a heretic, or at least seeking to correct him. That’s because Baptists don’t believe in the Real Presence.

The fact that we don’t see this sort of outcry in the early Church is compelling evidence that the early Christians didn’t believe what modern Baptists do about the Eucharist. Rather, they were united in belief about the Real Presence at a time when Christians weren’t afraid to squabble with one another over relatively smaller matters.

Why is this important? Because it means that these Protestants are saying not just “I think Jesus’ words at the Last Supper are meant to be merely symbolic,” but “I think that the entire Church misunderstood one of the most basic aspects of Christianity for centuries.” Call this the “everybody got the gospel wrong” position.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I will not leave you desolate” (John 14:18), a promise not to abandon the Church or to leave us as orphans. Specifically, Christ promised to preserve his Church by sending “the Spirit of Truth,” the Holy Spirit, to “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:17, 26). How is belief in this promise compatible with the idea that the whole Church lost the true meaning of the Last Supper, and that no Christians successfully followed his instructions to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24)?

To be sure, left to our own devices, you and I would get some aspects of the gospel wrong. That’s why there are so many competing Protestant denominations. But the solution to that is to turn to the Church and to have the humility to be guided, rather than trusting that our own reading of Scripture is superior to everyone else’s. This is the model laid out in Scripture itself. When Philip the Evangelist found an Ethiopian official reading the book of Isaiah, he asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” to which the man replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30-31). But the Protestant view undermines all of this by suggesting that the visible Church, and indeed all Christians everywhere, might be the ones in the wrong.

This is about not just rejecting the Church’s teaching authority, but rejecting all of Christianity prior to a certain point in history. If you can simply throw out all of (say) pre-1517 history as heretical and off the mark, why not throw out all pre-2018 Christianity? What appears on the surface to be a question simply about the Eucharist or the perpetual virginity of Mary is really a question about whether we can trust Christ’s promise not to abandon us, leaving us to our own private theological interpretations.

What’s more, if everybody got the gospel wrong then, what makes us think that anybody has the gospel right now? If we could all be wrong on the literality of the Eucharist for centuries, why couldn’t we be wrong about the literality of the Resurrection or of any other aspect of Christian teaching? If all of Christianity can get the core message of Christianity wrong, then it seems that we simply can’t be trusted to get the basics of Christianity right. But holding that, of course, undermines our ability to trust Christianity itself.”

Love,
Matthew

“Not My will…” -Mt 26:39b


-Martin Johann Schmidt (1718–1801), Christus am Ölberg, oil on canvas, 30.3 × 35.6 cm (11.9 × 14 in), private collection, Vienna, Austria, please click on the image for greater detail

My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet, not as I will, but as You will. (Matt 26:39b)


-by Br Nicholas Hartman

“When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His Passion, He renounced what He willed in obedience to the Father’s will. Yet this raises a question that the Church Fathers and Saint Thomas Aquinas attempted to resolve: How can Jesus, Who is God Himself and perfectly obedient to the Father, will anything as man that is opposed to the Father’s will? For if He did will anything of the sort, His human will would already be sinful for departing from God’s will. But if Christ did not have such a will, then it seems He could not renounce His will, as He clearly does.

To answer this question, Saint John Damascene, who adapted his thought from Saint Maximus the Confessor, distinguishes between thelesis and boulesis. He identifies thelesis as the natural power of willing that someone has. That power, to will something, has natural objects—such as, in the case of human beings, to live. Christ has a natural power of willing, and through that power he would ordinarily will to live.

According to Damascene, whereas thelesis describes the power to will something, boulesis describes what someone actually wills: that this person actually seeks to attain what he wills. Christ has a human power by which he naturally would will to live (thelesis), but instead he actually moves to obey the Father and submit himself to those who crucified him (boulesis).

The difficulty with this picture, however, is that Jesus would not be renouncing something he actually wills or desires. Rather, he’d merely be renouncing something that He could (and would normally) will. Thus, He in fact is renouncing no actual will at all.

For this reason, Aquinas reassigns the terms thelesis and boulesis. Neither of them refers to the power of willing this or that good. Rather, thelesis describes the act of willing an end—something that is good in itself. Yet, not everything that I wish for in this way moves me to do anything about it. That is, I do not intend every good end that I will. For instance, suppose I will to live for 175 years. Too bad. I might will that good in the sense that I wish for it, but I never intend it because there are no means that I can choose by which I can accomplish that end. Every act of thelesis is a wish, but not every such act is an intention accompanying a choice of means.

If thelesis describes the will for an end, boulesis describes the act of willing the means to an end. In order to bring about the end I will through thelesis, I will the means to that end through an act of boulesis—an act of choice. But, unlike thelesis, every act of boulesis involves the person moving himself to do something. Then, upon choosing the means, the prior act of thelesis for some good becomes not only a wish but also an intention.

Jesus in the garden actively wills (thelesis) to preserve his life because he naturally wishes for something that is good in itself. That is not against God’s will: God made us so that we would naturally wish for good things. But Christ also wills (thelesis) to be obedient to the Father and save the human race, which involves choosing (boulesis) to submit to suffering and death.

In this way, Christ’s will is in perfect conformity to the Father’s will, and he has a will that he renounces. Jesus wills (thelesis) to preserve his life. But he renounces it in the sense that he does not intend to preserve his life because that would involve choosing (boulesis) to reject the Father’s will—his will would move him against the Father. Instead, he intends to lovingly obey the Father (thelesis) by choosing (boulesis) to submit himself to the cross.

With this explanation, Aquinas gently adjusts the Fathers’ solution and opens up something of Jesus’ heart, making it a little easier for the rest of us to know Him and imitate His example of loving obedience to the Father.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Rev 5:8

“Catholics, along with other Christians who believe in the intercession of the saints, such as the Eastern Orthodox, often appeal to Revelation 5:8 as biblical support for the intercession of the saints.

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Since the Bible reveals that the saints in heaven offer our prayers to God, it’s reasonable to pray to them—that is, to make our requests known to them and ask them to pray to God for us.

Most Protestants don’t accept this interpretation of Revelation 5:8, and they offer several comebacks. Some challenge the assumption that “prayers of saints” refers to petitions that Christians on earth make.

Let’s take a look at a common counter-argument from prominent anti-Catholic apologist Matt Slick.

“The ‘saints’ aren’t Christians on earth.” 

Protestant apologist Matt Slick challenges the assumption that the term “saints” refers to Christians on earth. He argues that the referent for the term is ambiguous and that “their identity can’t be precisely demonstrated.” Slick favors the view that the term “saints” refers to either the four living creatures or the twenty-four elders who surround the throne of the Lamb.

His reasoning is that in verse 9, John says, “They sang a new song.” Slick asks, “Who is the ‘they’?” Slick answers, “It would have to be either the four living creatures and/or the twenty-four elders since ‘prayers of the saints’ don’t sing; ‘creatures’ and ‘elders’ do the singing.”

Answering the Comeback 

It’s true that the “they” in verse 9, those who sing the new song, are the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders. John lists the activity of singing along with other activities these heavenly inhabitants perform: falling down before the Lamb, holding harps, and offering the golden bowls full of incense. But his phrase “prayers of the saints” is separated from, or not included in, what the four living creatures and twenty-four elders are doing. John identifies “prayers of the saints” with the incense that the elders offer. The offering that the elders make is distinct from the “prayers of the saints,” so the twenty-four elders are not the “saints” John speaks of.

We can complement the above negative approach with a more positive one and give reasons to think “saints” refers to Christians on earth. Consider that in the New Testament, the term saint overwhelmingly refers to human beings on earth, and there are no unambiguous instances where the New Testament uses the term saint to refer to a human being in heaven. This gives us reason at least to be inclined to think “saints” in Revelation 5:8 refers to Christians on earth.

Another reason is that the Bible directly associates the prayers of the faithful on earth with incense. For example, the Psalmist writes, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!” (Ps. 141:2). If the Bible describes prayers being offered in heaven under the form of incense (Rev. 5:8), and the Bible explicitly associates prayers from on earth arising to God with incense (Ps. 141:2), then we have biblical grounds for identifying the prayers of Christians on earth with the “prayers of the saints.”

One more point: This phrase, “prayers of the saints,” would have been familiar to any Jew who read the book of Tobit. It comes from Tobit 12:15, where the angel Raphael says, “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.”

The context reveals that the “prayers of the saints” included the prayer of Tobit and his daughter-in-law. In verse 12, Raphael tells Tobit, “When you and your daughter-in-law Sarah prayed, I brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One.” And so here we have explicit scriptural evidence that the phrase “prayers of the saints” includes prayers of God’s righteous on earth.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “But Protestants don’t accept Tobit as inspired.” That’s true. But Tobit still is a historical source for Jewish belief, and thus, it is acceptable for trying to discern what a Jew, like John, would have had in mind when he wrote “prayers of the saints.”

Our appeal to Tobit becomes even more reasonable when we read in Revelation 8:3-4 that the “prayers of the saints,” which are mingled with incense, also rise to God from the hand of an angel.

Perhaps Raphael?”

Love,
Matthew

Left Behind, please!


-by Karlo Broussard

“Do you want to be left behind? For those of you familiar with Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, you’re probably thinking, “Heck no! I don’t won’t to be left behind.”

Well, I’m here to tell you, “You do want to be left behind.”

The question is prompted by Jesus’ teaching about his coming at the end of time, which he compares to the days of Noah:

As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man . . . they did not know until the Flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man . . . Two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left” (Matt. 24:37-41).

Some Christians think Jesus is saying that at the end of time, before the final tribulation, he’s going to secretly snatch believers up to himself (“one is taken”)—hence the term “rapture”—and leave behind (“one is left”) the wicked to experience the final push of evil wrought by the Antichrist, after which he will come and establish the new heaven and new earth.

This “pre-tribulation” rapture doctrine originated and was developed in the early to mid-1800s by John Nelson Darby, an early leader of a Fundamentalist movement that became known as Dispensationalism. This view has influenced the thinking of not only many Fundamentalist Christians, but also Catholics. Even Catholics don’t want to be left behind.

But, like I said above, this isn’t the right answer. You do want to be “left behind.” You don’t want to “taken.” (This isn’t a Liam Neeson movie!)

Note first that Jesus compares his coming to “the days of Noah.” Well, who was swept away, or taken away, in the Flood? It was the wicked. Noah and his family, the righteous ones, were left behind on earth to experience a new creation. As smelly as it probably was, I assume you would have wanted to be left behind on that ark.

Now, someone might counter, “But couldn’t we interpret Jesus the other way just as easily: the wicked were left behind to be destroyed by the Flood, and Noah and his family were swept away?”

One problem with this reading is that Matthew explicitly identifies the wicked as the ones being “swept away” in the Flood: “For as in those days before the Flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage . . . and they did not know until the Flood came and swept them all away” (Matt. 24:38-39). If it’s the wicked that were taken away in the Flood, then it’s the wicked that will be taken away at Jesus’ coming.

Another problem with the idea that it’s the wicked that are left behind is that it doesn’t jibe with the parable of the wicked servant that follows in verses 45-51. Again, the motif of “being taken away” is present, and it’s the wicked servant who is taken:

If that wicked servant says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth (vv. 48-50).

Here we have a parable about Jesus’ coming. And it’s the wicked who are taken away.

Jesus’s comparison of his coming to the days of Noah immediately precedes this parable, and Jesus says some will be taken away. It doesn’t make sense that Matthew would put these two parables together if Jesus meant to mix the referents of those being taken away: the righteous in one (the coming compared to the days of Noah) and the wicked in the other (his coming compared to the master finding his servant being unfaithful). Given this context, it’s more reasonable to interpret the ones being taken from the field at his coming as a reference to the wicked.

So far, our evidence has been restricted to Matthew’s Gospel. But when we look at Luke’s version of this teaching (Luke 17:26-37), we find that there’s more.

Like Matthew, Luke records the bit about one being taken and another being left behind. The only difference is that where Matthew talks about two in the “field,” Luke speaks of two in “bed” (Luke 17:34).

After Jesus tells the apostles that some will be taken away, Luke records the apostles asking Jesus, “Where, Lord?” Clearly, the question is directed to where the people are taken, since the apostles know where they’re left behind—namely, “in the bed” (v. 34) and “grinding at the mill” (v. 35). And in response to the question, Jesus says, “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered” (v. 37).

If the rapturist view were correct, then the place where these individuals are taken would have to be heaven. But Jesus’ response doesn’t quite match up.

The Greek word for “eagles” is aetoi (plural of aetos). It generally refers to a large carrion-eating bird, like an eagle or a vulture. Sometimes it’s used in a sense simply to refer to the bird without any focus on the decaying-flesh-eating activity, as evidenced in Revelation 4:7, where it speaks of one of the four living creatures as an “eagle”—the same Greek word, aetos, is used.

Here in Luke, though, the emphasis seems to be on the flesh-eating aspect of the bird. The New American Bible translation concurs, as it translates aetoi as “vultures.”

Notice that Jesus says, “Where the body is, there will the aetoi gather.” If Jesus were simply referring to the bird as such, then why emphasize the “body”? It appears that what Jesus is saying is that the place where these individuals are taken is a place where decaying flesh is picked by flesh-eating birds.

That doesn’t sound like heaven!

So, rather than the righteous being taken away and the wicked being left behind, it’s the opposite: the righteous are left behind, and the wicked are taken away. The wicked are taken away to experience torment, and the righteous stay behind to experience the new heaven and the new earth, like Noah and his family.

So, next time you get asked the question, “Do you want to be left behind?” get ready for a look of confusion when you answer, “Yes! How about you?”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Binding & Loosing – Mt 16:19 & 18:18


-by Suan Sonna, a Baptist convert to Catholicism

“Let’s address one of the most common prooftexts cited against Catholicism: Matthew 18:18. In this verse, Jesus bestows the power to “bind and loose” upon the apostles and thereby sets a pattern for local churches. The objection, according to Orthodox and Protestants, is that Matthew 18:18 nuances Peter’s authority in Matthew 16:19, where he is given the keys of the kingdom and the power to bind and loose. What initially seems like a bestowal of monarchical power onto Peter is softened into perhaps a more collegial system – or a pure democracy!

The first problem with this objection is that it’s a non sequitur: the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Strictly speaking, Jesus says that Peter (16:19) and the apostles including Peter (18:18) have the power to bind and loose. This fact alone does not reveal the authority dynamic among them. What’s the relationship between Peter’s binding and loosing and the other apostles’ authority? Matthew 18:18 notwithstanding, why, in Matthew 16:19, is there a unique commission to Peter if his power is no different from the others?

The second, and I think principal, issue is that the objection engages in special pleading. It ignores relevant facts about Peter and the surrounding context such that 18:18 looks unexpected for Catholicism only if we consider it in isolation.

A clarification should be made: Peter as an apostle would have shared certain privileges with the other apostles. They all possessed the power to bind and loose, which was originally the power of the Jewish leaders to discipline the community by declaring what is forbidden (bound) and allowed (loosed). The apostles could also discipline any church or speak on behalf of the entire church, because they were all directly receiving divine revelation. It therefore makes perfect sense that the apostles, including Peter, would have identical powers in this regard, given their shared office—just as a circuit judge and the chief justice of the supreme court are both judges.

The better question is whether Peter individually possessed any unique authority. Acts 5 is one of the best places to investigate. It is mysteriously made known to Peter that Ananias and Sapphira hoarded their property from the Jerusalem church. Some scholars argue that Peter continually received direct revelation from God. Evangelical scholar Eckhard J. Schnabel puts it this way: “Luke describes Peter as the spokesman of the apostles, who have just received Ananias’s gift. He also describes Peter as having the gift of prophecy, which allows him to see into Ananias’s heart—something only God can do (cf. Heb. 4:13).”

This is remarkably similar to how Jesus revealed in Matthew 16:17 that God the Father, and not any human source or power, helped Peter identify Jesus as the Messiah. We also see the Church moved by Peter’s dream to loosen Jewish dietary restrictions—another direct revelation from God to the one apostle (Acts 10:9-16).

Peter’s rebuke to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 inflicts death through divine action. This is significant, as there are only two other times in the New Testament where God kills someone: Acts 12:23, where he strikes down Herod for setting himself up as a god, and 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, where St. Paul notes that many have brought death on themselves by unworthily consuming the Eucharist. Acts 5 is the only time, however, that God does so through an apostle’s rebuke.

Peter’s actions here fall under his binding and loosing power, as F.F. Bruce (among others) explains:

“Binding” and “loosing” were idiomatic expressions in rabbinical Judaism to denote the promulgation of rulings either forbidding or authorizing various kinds of activity. The authority to bind or loose given to Peter in the present context is given to the disciples as a body in Matthew 18:18, in a saying of Jesus similarly preserved by this evangelist only. Again, the record of Acts provides an illustration. Where church discipline is in view, Peter’s verbal rebuke of Ananias and Sapphira received drastic ratification from heaven (Acts 5:1-11).

It is true that “the authority to bind and loose given to Peter” is “given to the disciples as a body in Matthew 18:18.” But authority can come in various degrees. All 100 senators are given the authority to write and vote on legislation, but the Senate majority leader can do more with that authority than his colleagues can, being privileged to bring legislation to a vote as well.

Indeed, F.F. Bruce uses Peter’s binding and loosing authority as a paradigmatic example of church discipline. This event shows that Peter could bind and loose without always having to go through his fellow apostles. Moreover, Bruce could be using “authority” here similar to how we would ordinarily use “power” or “capacity.” This interpretation makes sense of how he can say the authority (or simply “power”) to bind and loose can be given both to Peter and “the disciples as a body” while also using Peter as a unique example without contradicting himself. Peter and the entire apostolate received the same power to bind and loose but with different degrees of authority.

Finally, notice that Acts 5 is referenced as a “drastic ratification from heaven” of “Peter’s verbal rebuke.” Peter’s actions—a uniquely Petrine binding and loosing—shake the entire Church: “and great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things” (v. 11). His individual exercise of binding and loosing authority is the only one feared in this way. Although all of the apostles were respected afterwards, the people specifically laid the sick in Peter’s presence so that his shadow could touch and heal them (v. 15).

The popular objection from Matthew 18:18 fails to account for the nuance between having the same power or capacity to bind and loose and having the same degree of authority attached. Although the other apostles can bind and loose, command any church, and teach infallibly, we can only say that Peter is the chief spokesman of the apostles, rebukes with the utmost divine wrath backing him, and can shake the entire Church as in Acts 5. And so the biblical data show that Peter, even in his binding and loosing power, is pre-eminent.”

Love,
Matthew

The Catholic Church, which Christ founded, determines the canon of the Bible


Devin Rose

“I have found that the canon of Scripture is the single most fruitful topic to discuss with Protestant friends. The canon is the set of books that make up the Bible—Scripture’s “table of contents”—and it is one of the most important issues between Catholics and Protestants for two reasons: first, because the Catholic and Protestant canons differ (Catholics have seventy-three books in their canon and Protestants have sixty-six); second, because Protestants believe in a doctrine called sola scriptura or “the Bible alone.”

Sola scriptura means that only the Bible is the sole, infallible rule of faith and the sole source of public revelation given by God to man. Under this doctrine, Scripture is the first, best, and ultimate depository for divine truth, as well as the only one that is without error, having been inspired by God himself, who cannot lie.

But for sola scriptura to be true, we must first be able to know which books, exactly, make up Scripture (i.e., the biblical canon). We must also know this biblical canon with a certainty strong enough to bind our consciences. After all, if we believe that God inspired books to be written such that they are without error but we don’t know which books those are, we are left in the unacceptable position of not knowing whether a given book is inspired (and therefore inerrant) or whether it is just another book written from the mind of a human being.

Martin Luther was not afraid to challenge the canon of Scripture. He relegated four New Testament books to an appendix, denying that they were divinely inspired. Though this alteration of the New Testament wasn’t adopted by the Protestant movements, his alteration of the Old Testament was, and by the end of the Reformation Protestantism had removed seven books (the deuterocanonicals) from the Old Testament canon.

This means if Protestantism is true, God allowed the early Church to put seven books in the Bible that didn’t belong there.

Why Protestants changed their canon

The Protestants rejected the books for several reasons, two of which we will focus on here. The first was a “problematic” passage in 2 Maccabees, and the second was their desire to go “back to the sources”—ad fontes—which to them meant using the same books that the Jews had decided upon.

2 Maccabees included a laudatory reference to prayers for the dead, a practice that the Catholic Church had encouraged for assisting the souls in purgatory. Recall Luther’s protest of the sale of indulgences to remove the temporal punishment due for already forgiven sins—punishment that must be paid before a soul would be fit to enter heaven. Luther and the Reformers rejected purgatory, so all that was connected with it also had to go: indulgences, prayers for the dead, and the communion of saints (which includes those both living and asleep in Christ).

The Reformers pointed out that these seven books were not included in the Jewish Hebrew Bible. For that reason, they argued, the books should not be accepted by Christians. Some Protestant apologists seek to bolster this claim by mentioning the theory that, around A.D. 90, a council of Jews at Jamnia explicitly rejected these books. (The consensus among modern scholars is that the Jews closed their canon closer to the end of the second century A.D.)

Others like to point out that some Church Fathers rejected one or more of these books. They strengthen this argument with the testimony of Josephus and Philo—two Jews from the first century—who also did not accept them.

Why the deuterocanonicals are inspired

Because Catholicism is true, the church Christ founded, and not the Jews, possessed the authority and divine guidance to discern the Old Testament canon.

A little historical background is needed here. The first Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, used during Jesus’ time, was called the Septuagint. It was an evolving set of books that was added to from the third century B.C. until the time of Christ. It remains the most ancient translation of the Old Testament that we have today and so is used to correct the errors that crept into the Hebrew (Masoretic) text, the oldest extant manuscripts of which date only from the ninth century.

The Septuagint was used extensively in the Near East by rabbis, and in the first century the apostles quoted prophecies from it in the books that became the New Testament. It was accepted as authoritative by the Jews of Alexandria and then by all Jews in Greek-speaking countries.

By the time of Christ, the Septuagint contained the deuterocanonical books. The majority of Old Testament quotes made by the New Testament authors come from the Septuagint. In fact, the early Church used the Septuagint as its primary Old Testament source until the fifth century. Its importance cannot be overstated.

Historical evidence also shows that there were multiple, conflicting Jewish canons at the time of Christ. Protestants claim that the Hebrew canon was closed at the time of Christ. But let’s stop and think about that: How could the Jews close their canon when they were still awaiting the advent of the new Elijah (John the Baptist) and the new Moses (Jesus)?

Recall that Malachi 4:5 tells us that God would send a new Elijah the prophet: “Behold I will send you Elias the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” We know from John 1:19-25 that the Jews were eagerly awaiting this new Elijah, as well as the new Moses.

Since many prophets in the Old Covenant had been inspired by God to write books, it only makes sense that the Jews would expect these two great prophets to write books as well. Closing the Hebrew canon before the prophets’ advent, then, would have been unthinkable.

Timothy Michael Law, in his new book When God Spoke Greek, has demonstrated that the Jews did not close their canon until the second century A.D. This fact renders the (alleged) Jewish council’s decision at Jamnia moot. It should be noted that most scholars today doubt that any such council ever took place.

But even if it did, would Jewish leaders possess the authority to make a decision binding upon the Christian Church? Those Jews who had accepted Christ had already become Christians. The remainder had no authority to decide anything about divine truth, as that authority had passed to those filled with the Holy Spirit (i.e., the apostles). The same goes for the opinions of Josephus and Philo. The Jews did not have the authority to decide the canon. The Church did.

Law also shows that the Greek Septuagint is a witness to an, at times, even more ancient textual stream of the Hebrew scriptures when compared with the Masoretic text. Ironically, this meant that the Reformers goofed when they relied upon the Masoretic text and the (truncated) Hebrew canon in their attempt to go “back to the original sources.” They should have used the Septuagint translation and included the seven deuterocanonical books! Thus the argument that Christians should base their Old Testament off of the Hebrew Bible rather than the Greek Septuagint is dubious.

Regarding Church Fathers doubting the deuterocanonical books, it is true that several rejected one or more of them or put them on a level lower than the rest of Scripture. But many, including those with doubts, quoted them as Scripture with no distinction from the rest of the Bible.

The broader fact is that the testimony of the Fathers was not unanimous on the Old Testament canon. Even Jerome, the great biblical scholar, early in his career favored the Hebrew canon but then changed his mind and submitted his opinion to the wisdom of the Church, accepting the deuterocanonicals as Scripture (ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf203.vi.xii.ii.xxvii.html).

Finally, it should be pointed out that Protestants seeking to defend their canon based on historical evidence—even if they are convinced they have found sufficient proof—run into an insurmountable problem: Nowhere in Scripture does it say that this is the way to know which books belong in the canon. Such a criterion for choosing the canon in fact contradicts sola scriptura, because it is an extra-biblical principle.

A consistent Protestant argument for selecting the canon of Scripture, then, must itself come from Scripture, which would create a circular argument. Unfortunately—but providentially—no such instructions from God exist. No table of contents is found in any biblical book. No scroll with a table of contents is considered inspired by Protestants (or by Catholics).

The self-authenticating canon

Most Protestant apologists realize that all their stalwart arguments have iron-clad rebuttals. And so many have abandoned those arguments and cling to their last remaining bastion: They claim that the inspired books authenticate themselves. This idea is so widely used that it is worthy of a lengthy explanation.

The self-authenticating canon means that a true Christian can read a given book and easily tell whether it is inspired by God or not. The Holy Spirit dwelling within the Christian would witness to the book’s inspiration. This theory did away with the need for trusting the corrupted early Church or for tracing the messy history of the canon’s development. Instead, you as a faithful Christian simply picked up your Bible, read the books, and listened for the inner witness of the Spirit telling you that the books were inspired by God.

Similarly, you could theoretically pick up a non-canonical epistle or Gospel from the first or second century, read it, and note the absence of the Spirit’s confirmation of its inspiration. As Calvin described it:

It is utterly vain, then, to pretend that the power of judging Scripture so lies with the church and that its certainty depends upon churchly assent. Thus, while the church receives and gives its seal of approval to Scripture, it does not thereby render authentic what is otherwise doubtful or controversial. . . . As to their question—How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church?—it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste. . . . those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and Scripture indeed is self-authenticated (Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, vii.1, 2, 5).

Calvin makes two claims here. First, that the Church does not give authority to Scripture but rather Scripture has authority by the fact that God inspired it; second, that a Christian can know the canon from the Holy Spirit’s testimony within him, not by trusting a decision of the Church.

Calvin’s first claim has never been contested by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox churches, or any Christian. It is a straw man: The Church teaches that it received inspired texts from God (through human authors) and that God guided it in discerning which among many texts were truly inspired. The Church is thus the servant of written revelation and not its master.

Calvin’s second claim has become the common answer from Protestants who can’t concede that a corrupt Church selected the canon. There’s an element of truth to it: Surely the Holy Spirit does witness to our souls when we read the Bible. But Calvin sets up a false dichotomy here: Either the Church, by discerning the canon, imagines itself in authority over Scripture, or the canon is self-evident to any Christian. Calvin replaces the belief that God guided the Church in selecting the canon with the belief that God guides me or you in selecting it. He forces his readers to choose between these options, but in fact they are both false.

History contradicts Calvin’s claim

There is no principled reason, in Scripture or elsewhere, to believe that God would guide me or you in this discernment but not the Church. Moreover, Calvin’s subjective criterion for discerning the canon is surely impractical and unrealistic. How would a person seeking truth but not yet indwelt by the Holy Spirit know which books to read to find truth? What about a new Christian who had not learned to distinguish the inner voice of the Spirit from his own? At what point after his conversion would a Christian be considered ready to help define the canon? If two Christians disagreed, whose inner judgment would be used to arbitrate their dispute and identify the real canon?

Another problem with Calvin’s claim is that the facts of history contradict it. As we have seen, the selection of the canon was not an easy, debate-free process that ended with the close of written revelation in the early second century. Rather, the canon emerged slowly through a laborious process, with differing canons being proposed by different Church Fathers during these centuries.

If the canon were obvious and self-evident, the Holy Spirit would have led each of them to the same canon. Yet even these faithful, Spirit-filled men, so close to the time of the apostles and Christ himself, proposed different canons. It was not until almost A.D. 400 that the canon was settled, and it contained the seventy-three books of the Catholic Bible. When, more than 1,100 years later, the Reformers changed the canon by rejecting the seven deuterocanonical books (and Luther unsuccessfully tried to discard others), it was another example of intelligent and well-meaning Christians disagreeing about the “self-authenticated” canon.

The books of the canon are not obvious merely from reading them. Martin Luther should prove that to Protestants, since he was the founder of the Protestant Reformation, and yet he tried to jettison four books from the New Testament.

The Church discerns the Old Testament

This means that neither the New Testament nor the Old Testament is self-authenticating. And so we come full circle back to the question of the deuterocanonicals. Weighing this evidence, any open Protestant should be able to admit that the only thing keeping him back from considering these books as inspired by God is the Protestant tradition that rejected them. Is that tradition from God or from men?

The Church’s careful discernment of the canon settled on including the deuterocanonical books. And, with some occasional doubts, the books were consistently included in the canon from the 300s through the 1400s. In fact, the ecumenical council of Florence in the mid-1400s reaffirmed their inclusion in the Old Testament canon. This was long before Martin Luther and the first Protestants and lends further evidence that the Church accepted these books as inspired and did not “add” them to the canon in response to the Reformation, as many Protestants claim.

If Protestantism is true, then for more than a thousand years all of Christianity used an Old Testament that contained seven fully disposable, possibly deceptive books that God did not inspire. He did, however, allow the early Church to designate these books as Sacred Scripture and derive false teachings such as purgatory from their contents. Eventually, God’s chosen Reformer, Martin Luther, was able to straighten out this tragic error, even though his similar abridgment of the New Testament was a mistake.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Sep 30 – St Jerome of Stridon (347-420 AD) – the man who translated the Bible from Hebrew & Greek


-by Baroque Painter Jacques Blanchard’s Saint Jerome was made in 1632 and the original painting is in Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. The original size of the work is 145,5 x 116 cm and is made of oil on canvas., please click on the image for greater detail

-by Jaspreet Singh Boparai

“…We know quite a bit about (Jerome’s) life because he couldn’t help discussing it at length, in letters, treatises, commentaries and even the introductions to his translations of the Bible. The Catholic Church not only recognised him as a saint: it declared him to be one of the four first Latin-language Doctors of the Church.

His learning and intelligence were quite literally legendary. In the Middle Ages Jerome was said to have once been lecturing to students in Bethlehem when a lion approached. His students fled in terror; he saw that it was limping and removed a thorn from its paw. Thereafter he was followed everywhere by a tame pet lion. The story has never really been believed, at least among the learned; but the lion has been associated with Jerome as a symbol ever since. Perhaps this reflects certain aspects of his personality: you read his writing and cannot help but think, A saint? Him?


-Penitent Saint Jerome, Bernardino Luini, 1525 (Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, Italy).

Saint Jerome of Stridon

Saint Jerome (AD 331–420), the man who translated the Bible into Latin, was born at Stridon in Dalmatia during the reign of Constantine the Great (r. 306–37). His home, and at least some of the family estates, appear to have been destroyed by invading Goths in 379.

Jerome’s parents were Christian, but did not bother to have him baptised. They insisted on speaking Latin at home, although they lived in the provinces. Later in life Jerome would complain of continuing to remember stray vocabulary from his “barbarous native language”, including the name of the unappetising beer that was brewed both locally and in the neighbouring province of Pannonia. Jerome appears to have learnt enough of the local Illyrian dialect to shout at peasants and slaves.

In a letter (AD 382) he admits that during his childhood and early youth he had been a glutton for luxurious food; he considered this to be the most difficult vice to drop when he chose to adopt a more ascetic manner of living.


-Saint Jerome in His Study, Albrecht Dürer, 1514 (Kupferstich-Kabinett, Dresden Castle, Germany).

Jerome in Rome

Jerome’s parents sent him to Rome to be educated under the famous schoolmaster Aelius Donatus, who remains well-known as the author of grammatical textbooks, as well as literary commentaries on the works of Terence and Vergil that summarise a great deal of earlier scholarship.

Donatus trained his pupils thoroughly according to his own fastidious literary tastes. Although his own prose has been described as dry, bland and wholly colourless, he at least had strong opinions about what good writing should be. From Donatus, Jerome acquired a passionate devotion to strict grammatical correctness.

Having left the school of Donatus at around the age of sixteen, Jerome began his formal rhetorical training. He appears to have thrived, relishing every available opportunity to challenge his fellow students to debates, which he treated as verbal duels. Later in life he would remember with pleasure how carefully he groomed himself at this point in his life, particularly when preparing to deliver practice orations in front of his rhetoric master.

Jerome appears to have been destined early on for a career at the Bar. He frequented courts of law, and mastered all the legal materials and techniques of argument that were to feature so frequently in his many writings, particularly where he threatened to sue his opponents. He never formally studied philosophy, but memorised many philosophers’ names, often in the original Greek.

As a student in Rome, one of Jerome’s greatest pastimes involved copying library books, as a relatively inexpensive means of creating a library of his own. He also bought many books, but many hours were spent writing out copies of his own in this way. The library that he began to build would never leave his side, even when he later retired into a cave; this handwritten collection would develop into one of the most important private libraries of his day, when Roman literary culture was already beginning to shrivel and decay.


-Saint Jerome, Leonardo da Vinci, 1483 (Vatican Museums).

“Have mercy on me, a sinner”

Books were not his only pleasure. During this period Jerome appears to have indulged in a range of unspecified activities which later caused him to be disgusted with himself; these are not catalogued in any of his later writings in which he castigates himself for his corrupt adolescence and early manhood. His most specific autobiographical description of the period describes the young Jerome as “befouled with the squalor of every type of sin”.

Jerome’s occasional lapses of self-mastery affected much of the course of his life. During a period of enforced self-isolation he was afflicted by powerful visions of sins that he thought he had abandoned, many of which appear to have involved saltatrices (dancing girls). In a letter to his friend Pammachius (AD 393) he admitted that if he exalted virginity to the skies, it was in admiration of what he had lost. Self-recrimination features in much of his correspondence.


-Saint Jerome in the Desert Tormented by Memories of Dancing Girls, Francesco de Zurbarán, 1639 (Royal Monastery of Santa Maria of Guadalupe), please click on the image for more detail

Jerome appears never to have endured a phase of petulant disbelief even as a teenager; he was not a baptized Christian, however, until his mid-twenties (or possibly even his early thirties). Yet he was evidently drawn to the religion of his parents. In his Commentary on Ezekiel he records his Sunday habit of visiting the tombs of all the Apostles and Martyrs in Rome with a small group of fellow students. The darkness in the crypts was total; the heat, humidity and terrifying blackness reminded them of the line from Psalm 55:

Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into Hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.

In Jerome’s own translation:

Veniat mors super illos, et descendant in infernum viventes: quoniam nequitiae in habitaculis eorum, in medio eorum.

The friends also remembered the latter part of the second book of Virgil’s Aeneid, and Aeneas’ frantic night-time stumbling through the burning ruins of Troy:

horror ubique animo simul ipsa silentia terrent.

(Aeneid 2.755: “Dread from every side fills my heart, whilst the very silence causes alarm.”)

Jerome leaves Rome

In 367 AD, Jerome and his childhood friend Bononus settled together by the “half-barbarian banks of the Rhine”, likely in the imperial city of Trier. During this period Jerome had much leisure to continue augmenting his library, although Trier does not appear to have been a centre of learning. He was already thirty-six years old.

In this “ghastly backwater” Jerome had leisure to observe what he considered the “primitive customs”, “clumsy language” and “unappetising food” of various Germanic tribes. He never forgot his first sight of the Attacotti, uncouth natives of Ireland, who sometimes ate human flesh, and had a taste for the buttock-meat of stolen livestock – they never seem to have acquired the skill of animal husbandry for themselves. The Irish “savages”, as he described them, were probably on display in captivity at the imperial residence.

According to Saint Augustine, Trier unexpectedly became an early centre of monasticism at around this time. The movement allegedly began when a pair of bored imperial courtiers stumbled (perhaps literally) over a copy of Saint Athanasius’ Life of Saint Antony of Egypt, a hagiographical account of how an illiterate holy man became the first Christian hermit. Athanasius’ work made the life of a monk appear highly attractive to the two courtiers. They settled in a hut outside the city walls of Trier and began to attract followers.

It is unknown whether the two courtiers mentioned by Augustine are Bononus and Jerome. If so, someone else must have taken over the monastery, because Jerome left Trier to visit his family in Stridon.

He had not been home in years. His younger sister, now in her early teens, was conducting herself in a manner which led him to describe her as “wounded by the devil” and “spiritually dead”; this led to a protracted quarrel with Jerome’s maternal aunt Castorina. St Jerome’s relationship with his parents cooled. He was also disenchanted with the Christian community at Stridon, describing it as boorish, rustic, greedy, materialistic and led by a bishop (Lupicinus) who was admirably suited to such a degraded people, whom he led in the manner of a blind man leading other blind men into a pit, as in the Biblical parable (Matthew 15:13-14).

Jerome pressured his sister to take religious vows, possibly at the convent in nearby Emona, and ended up breaking permanently with most of his extended family. Leaving home forever, he visited the city of Aquileia (near Venice). Bononus came with him; his old classmates Rufinus and Heliodorus were already there. The trio decided to settle together to form a sort of informal monastery (as it were).

The bishop of Aquileia appealed greatly to Jerome. There were many energetic Christian reformers in the city; they did not compromise on doctrine, dogma or the importance of orthodoxy. Jerome congratulated the bishop on cleansing the city of heresy. Pious ascetics were more than welcome in Aquileia. Among Jerome’s new friends was Paul, who was almost a hundred years old, and also had an extensive collection of books, many of which Jerome copied out himself.


-Jerome in his study, Colantino, 1445/6 (National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy).

Unknown adversaries

In 373, a crisis erupted. In letters Jerome complained of being relentlessly hounded by an unnamed enemy. Doors slammed shut in his face. We do not know why his reputation was so suddenly blackened, though he appears to have done something shocking, offensive and completely unforgiveable in the eyes of the community of nuns at Emona. They never replied to his letters begging their forgiveness, and pleading that they not judge him too hastily or give ear to malicious gossip. In at least one letter he admitted that he had done wrong and had to ask for their pardon.

Jerome and his three friends were compelled to leave Aquileia and go their separate ways. Rufinus sailed away to Egypt; Bononus became a hermit on a rocky island in the Adriatic; Heliodorus went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jerome decided to make his way to the Holy Land as well. They all appear to have had a distinctive motivation for leaving; the others’ reasons appear to have been unconnected to the scandal that drove St Jerome away from his new home.

Disillusioned and bitter, Jerome resolved to take his library with him into the wilderness. He would spend the rest of his life as a penitent ascetic near Jerusalem. But first he would make a tour of the East. He stopped in Antioch at the home of his friend Evagrius, a rich and influential priest, and ended up staying for over a year.

His health had suffered during his journey; he spent part of his convalescence studying Aristotle with a private tutor. But he fell into a state of mental and spiritual turmoil, torn by conflicting desires, and wracked by vacillation and remorse. He still enjoyed pagan literature, and knew he remained susceptible to pleasures of the flesh; he felt too unworthy and sinful to isolate himself as a hermit, or join a community of holy monks.


-The vision of Saint Jerome, Louis Cretey, mid-17th century (private collection, France).

The vision

At Lent 374 AD, while bedridden with a wasting illness, he had a terrible nightmare, which he later recounted in a letter (Epistle 22, to Saint Eustochium, section 30). In the dream he was dragged before a tribunal. A bright light blinded him. The Judge asked him what he was. “A Christian,” he replied. “Liar!” the Judge retorted. “You follow Cicero, not Christ – your heart lies where your treasure is.” The judge ordered him to be flogged. St Jerome was tormented more by guilt than by the lashes of his torturer, and cried out for mercy. Bystanders interceded, pleading on his behalf for mercy, begging that he be allowed a chance to mend his ways. He swore an oath:

“Domine, si umquam habuero codices saeculares, si legero, te negavi.”

“Lord, if ever again I possess worldly books, or read them, I shall have denied Thee.”

He was released.

Jerome woke up. His back and shoulders were swollen, and covered with welts and bruises.

For at least a decade Jerome kept his promise and refused to read pagan literature. Of course he had already memorized his favorite Classics long since. Eventually he found means of modifying, then drastically reinterpreting, his oath; despite his promise, he appears not to have dispersed a single volume of his book collection.

When he had fully recovered from his illness, Jerome revised his plans: instead of making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem he would join the hermits in the Syrian desert. He pressured his friend Heliodorus to join him. After long, sometimes fraught discussions, he managed to drive Heliodorus back to Italy, then went to the desert alone.

The desert

The solitary hermits of the desert were not really solitary. Near Chalcis the barren landscape teemed with gangs of cave-dwellers and hermits, most of whom were dirty, uneducated and eccentric. They wore squalid garments made of hair, ate raw herbs and sometimes loaded their bodies with chains. One hermit was said to have lived for thirty years on a diet of barley bread and stagnant muddy water. Another kept himself alive in an abandoned cistern with a diet of five dates a day. The hermits wanted to subdue their bodies, break their own wills and crush every last carnal impulse. To that end they reduced all eating and drinking to a minimum, and deliberately made their sleep difficult. This was how they atoned for their sins and brought themselves closer to God.

Jerome’s hermit-cave was not entirely unfurnished. Although he slept on the bare earth, and sought to discipline his rebellious body by reducing it almost to a skeleton, he was still capable of receiving and entertaining regular visitors, including his friend Evagrius. Also, he brought his entire library with him to his cave, and employed several assistants to copy out books for him. He had leisure to teach himself the rudiments of Hebrew. There appears to have been at least one private tutor in his entourage.


-Saint Jerome writing, Caravaggio, 1606 (Borghese Gallery, Rome, Italy).

In the desert Jerome’s correspondence was more extensive than ever; he wrote a great many letters asking for the forgiveness of those he had offended, and attacking those who would not forgive him. He concluded a long note to his aunt Castorina by warning her that if she continued to refuse to reply he would consider himself absolved of all wrongdoing. For all his desire to leave the world and the temptations of society, Jerome appears to have hated being alone. The fires of lust had not been extinguished either. Nobody wanted to join him in the desert – not even the friends to whom he wrote elaborate letters praising the ascetic life and its spiritual joys.

During the winter of 376/7, Jerome began to realise that he was unpopular among the hermits in the surrounding desert. He wrote a letter to Pope Damasus complaining about the acrimonious disputes about the Trinity into which he had been dragged by neighbouring hermits, who had the gall to question his orthodoxy. Jerome was particularly exasperated by how quarrelsome everybody else was. The entire Eastern Church seemed to him chaotic, self-contradictory and needlessly argumentative. Everybody he spoke to wanted to engage in a shouting-match about Christian doctrine. Pope Damasus’ reply is not recorded.

A few months later, Jerome wrote another, shorter letter to the Pope. His mood had not improved. Now he felt more persecuted than ever. The nameless adversary who had relentlessly pursued him in Aquileia continued to hound him; three separate Christian factions wanted to claim him as their own; his neighbours among the desert monks had become a menace. He found himself the target of threats, abuse and insinuations; his life as a solitary hermit was becoming intolerable. His many enemies were trying to silence him, which was why he wrote so many lengthy letters. Evidently somebody wanted to get rid of him; he and his team of copyists and his private Hebrew tutor no longer felt welcome among the hermit community in the desert. Pope Damasus’ reply is not recorded.

Jerome had lost all his illusions about monks, and began publicly to condemn their hypocrisy and arrogance, particularly after he returned to Evagrius’ house in Antioch before Easter 377. He stayed for another year, licking his wounds whilst enjoying Evagrius’ hospitality.


-Saint Jerome in his study, Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1480 (Church of Ognissanti, Florence, Italy).

Retreat from the desert

This second extended period in Antioch was fruitful: Jerome produced his first major literary work in Latin, a biography of a hermit whom he claimed as the real founder of Christian monasticism, twenty years before Saint Antony of Egypt. The book evidently alienated not only Jerome’s former neighbours in the desert but also Evagrius, who had written a noted biography of Saint Antony of Egypt. Jerome also began to gain renown as the author of controversial pamphlets. Evagrius asked him to leave.

Jerome arrived in Constantinople at the beginning of 379. He claims to have become a disciple of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop of Constantinople; though he is nowhere mentioned in Gregory’s voluminous corpus of surviving writings, even in passing.

At Constantinople Jerome embarked on his career as a literary translator, beginning with the Chronicle of Eusebius of Caesarea, the bishop who has long been regarded as the father of Church history. Jerome’s translation included numerous editorial interjections meant to correct the original work, bring it up to date, or else simply share the translator’s own opinions and knowledge with the reader. It is a mark of this translation’s qualities that it was popular in areas of Mediaeval Europe that remained untouched by the Renaissance.

Jerome was not so much a historian as an enthusiastic lister of facts, not all of which were judged critically for accuracy, veracity or relevance to the subject at hand. His historical essays are distinguished by the author’s loyalty to personal friends, and extensive revelations of Jerome’s preferred opinions, preoccupations of the moment and fluctuating emotional state. Occasionally the tone is inexplicably violent.

Incessant reading and translation nearly blinded Jerome. His eyesight suffered further due to a shortage of stenographers. In the aftermath of the Gothic invasion of Stridon in 379, Jerome’s family temporarily cut off his allowance. He was forced to carry out his own copying for some time.


-Saint Jerome, Christoph Paudiss, 1656/58 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria).

The joys of bureaucracy

In 382 Jerome accompanied Paulinus, Bishop of Antioch, to Rome. Back in the Eternal City he had the opportunity to meet many of the figures to whom he had been writing frequent long letters; these included Pope Damasus himself. The Pope decided to put him to work as a papal secretary.

Jerome thrived as a bureaucrat. He found a great deal of spare time for personal projects: the Pope was over eighty, and encouraged his new secretary to spend as much time as possible distracting himself on his own. It was Pope Damasus’ idea to encourage Jerome to go off and translate the entire Bible into serviceable Latin, preferably in a monastery somewhere. Before starting that project in earnest, Jerome decided to improve on existing ‘Old Latin’ translations of the New Testament.

Jerome’s improved versions of the Gospels led to howls of protest. He responded by describing his critics as “two-legged asses” who preferred to lap up muddy rivulets when they could have drunk, as he did, from the pellucid fountain of the Gospels’ original Greek. This was his way of criticising their mastery of Latin as well as Greek: the ‘Old Latin’ translations of the New Testament were poorly written even by the standards of Late Antiquity. Whilst Jerome did not think highly of St Paul or the Evangelists as prose stylists (none, after all, had been educated by Donatus) at least they were superior to the uncouth early Christians who had first tried to render these texts into Latin. Jerome began to amass further enemies in some number.

During this sojourn in Rome, Jerome became intimate with a small circle of aristocratic Christian widows, whom he encouraged in their tendencies towards strict asceticism. His most devoted follower was Saint Paula of Rome, one of the very richest women in the Empire at the time. Her daughter Blaesilla had been seriously ill; Jerome encouraged her to take on strict ascetic discipline; she died. Saint Eustochium, Paula’s other daughter, managed in the end to live almost as long as Jerome did.


-Saint Paula with Saints Eustochium and Jerome, Francesco de Zurburán, 1638/40 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA).

For the first time in his life, Jerome was fashionable, and much sought-after, if only by old women in mansions. He often had influence over their daughters as well. Certain pious young women began to receive inordinately elaborate letters encouraging them to rigorous chastity and self-mortification – there were dangerous desires and appetites to repress and suppress. One of Jerome’s most inspired rhetorical performances of the period is addressed to a wealthy teenage virgin, whom he strongly encourages in chastity with repeated warnings about the temptations of lust. These are described with great variety and imagination. Not long after writing this letter he was forced to leave Rome.

Pope Damasus died on 11 December 384. With his main patron out of the way Jerome was open to scrutiny by his enemies, who began to investigate his relationships with his various devout lady-followers. The Church opened an inquiry into his activities. Jerome was eventually acquitted; his name was fully cleared; but he was now less celebrated than ever, having declared Rome as the great harlot arrayed in purple and scarlet that had appeared in the visions of St John at Patmos (Revelations 17.1-6).

Farewell to Rome

Even as he stood on the deck of the ship that would take him from Rome’s port at Ostia to Jerusalem, Jerome was seen dictating a long, vehement letter of self-defence to one of his richer widow-followers. Several of his pious lady-friends decided to accompany him to Jerusalem, including Paula and Eustochium. The precise size of his entourage is unknown, but they appear to have had a large ship to themselves; their luggage included Jerome’s entire library.

Jerome and his entourage spent a year touring the Holy Land; they stopped for a month at Alexandria so that Jerome could listen to the lectures of the blind theologian Didymus, who had been a pupil of the vegetarian teetotaller Origen, who was later regarded as a heretic. Rufinus had also studied with Didymus, though for rather longer.

Paula and Eustochium would never leave Jerome’s side; they built a monastery for him outside Jerusalem, with an extensive library to house all his books. The convent that they built for themselves had at least fifty nuns; Jerome’s monastery retained considerably fewer long-term residents.

Jerome’s old friend Rufinus had established a monastery of his own by the Mount of Olives. He too had a wealthy widow to support his activities: his patron was Saint Melania the Elder. Both men’s monasteries copied out books; Rufinus’ subordinates often found themselves employed to expand St Jerome’s library even further.


-Saint Jerome and the lion, Rogier van der Weyden, 1450 (Detroit Institute of Art, MI, USA).

Bursts of activity

Jerome was not necessarily suited to the role of Abbot; he was particularly exercised by the need to be hospitable to foreigners. Even so, he was remarkably prolific in Jerusalem. Paula was a much more reliable source of income than his family. He began to compose commentaries on individual books of the Bible to supplement his continuing translations. His commentaries feature numerous frank descriptions of those who had offended him, or challenged his opinions. The commentaries on St Paul’s Epistles are a particularly rich resource for data on the personal habits of bishops whom he regarded as unsuitable for their duties.

During this period of unprecedented creativity Jerome took it upon himself to compile authoritative reference works on subjects that he had recently introduced himself to; his collection of Hebrew etymologies is limited in its application, though inventive in its way, and features a notably low proportion of invectives directed against now-forgotten contemporaries. This work inspired him to begin translating the Old Testament into Latin directly from Hebrew, without reliance on the Greek Septuagint (itself of the 3rd century BC) as an intermediary text or starting-point, except where strictly necessary.


-Saint Jerome in his study, Antonello da Messina, 1475 (National Gallery, London).

Jerome began this work in 390; he announced that he had completed the task in 392, though he overestimated the speed of his progress by fourteen years or so. These Bible translations were circulated book by book, and evidently caused widespread consternation throughout the Church, a fact to which Jerome draws attention in the often-vituperative prefaces to his versions of Samuel, Isaiah and the Psalms in particular.

Jerome’s most celebrated original work, De viris illustribus, is a chronological catalogue of 135 distinguished Christian writers beginning with Saint Peter (who died between AD 64 and 68) and ending with Jerome himself. An influential friend of whom we know nothing is said to have pressed Jerome to write this.

While defective from a scholarly point of view, and in some respects utterly reprehensible, De viris illustribus is illuminating on the subject of Jerome himself, even by the general standards of everything he wrote. He held an unusual number of men in contempt, including Saint Ambrose of Milan; that said, this work is generally less overtly libellous than his pamphlet on Christian chastity from this period. The tract caused considerable embarrassment to Jerome’s remaining friends in Rome. Whilst it is in places shockingly crude and coarse, Jerome was surprised to learn that it outraged many readers and added to his collection of enemies.


-“St. Jerome,” from the workshop of Marinus van Reymerswaele, ca. 1489 – ca. 1546, oil on wood, height, 101 cm (39.7 inches), width, 129 cm (50.7 inches), Swedish Nationalmuseum, please click on the image for greater detail

Controversies and strife

Around the beginning of 393, Jerome began to fall out, first privately, then publicly, with his old friend Rufinus. The origin of the dispute is itself disputed, although Jerome’s derogatory remarks extended beyond Rufinus himself to Melania as well as the local bishop, who eventually tried to retaliate by having Jerome and his monks expelled from Palestine by imperial command. But the minister instructed to carry this instruction to the Roman administration was stopped outside Constantinople and cut to pieces by a Gothic general (27 November 395).

Multiple attempts at mediating the conflict failed. Jerome published a blistering attack on the bishop, ridiculing him on personal as well as doctrinal grounds (January 397). Yet the bishop refused to be drawn into the controversy. In the end, Melania engineered a reconciliation on Easter Sunday 397; Jerome and Rufinus were forced to shake one another by the hand and declare that all had been forgiven. Both men were so humiliated that their mutual resentment only grew deeper. After a quarter-century in the Holy Land, Rufinus decided to leave the monastery that Melania had built for him, and moved back to Rome.

Rufinus had not intended to renew hostilities from Rome. But for whatever reason he decided to produce an expurgated Latin translation of one of Origen’s more hotly disputed texts, toning down or leaving out passages that might have outraged many faithful Christians. Why Rufinus felt compelled to translate this work in particular has never satisfactorily been explained. He tried to cover himself by insinuating in the preface to his translation that Jerome, as a former student of the blind Didymus, was more than friendly to Origen’s ideas. Jerome’s reaction was perhaps predictable.

-Saint Jerome in his study, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, 1530; Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA).

The ugly and protracted scandal that surrounded Origen’s work at the end of the fourth century was based to a great degree on Church politics. Pope Anastasius I (r. 399-402) was not well-read in theology, although even he could see that there were theological problems in Origen’s work; he decided to end the dispute by condemning Origen and all his current followers.

Rufinus blamed Jerome for vindictively spreading rumours about his unorthodox opinions, claiming that he was not a heretic but a mere innocent literary translator producing a controversial text purely for the sake of the intellectually curious who did not have the Greek to read Origen’s original work. He noted that even Jerome himself had praised – and indeed translated – Origen. This was not wise. Jerome was not instantly provoked; but inevitably he would respond.

Rufinus laboured for two years on his Apologia against Jerome, which circulated widely from 401. Whilst lacking in dialectical verve, the pamphlet was highly effective. It made extensive use of documents, evidence and common-sensical logic. But the reply, the two-book-long Apologia against Rufinus, appeared at great speed even by Jerome’s usual standards. This was a brilliant polemic, displaying a relatively cool control of tone that is without parallel in Jerome’s oeuvre. The perpetual sneer of mild contempt, and the only occasional descent into slanging, demonstrate an artistic discipline of which Jerome had hitherto rarely seemed capable.

Penitent Saint Jerome, Albrecht Dürer, 1496 (National Gallery, London).
Some months later, Jerome felt compelled to add a third book to the Apologia against Rufinus. Rufinus regarded this as even more violently insulting than the previous two books, despite Jerome’s announcement in the preface that he had decided to refrain from abusing his opponent, citing St Paul’s reminder (Romans 12.19ff.) that a Christian ought not to seek revenge. On these grounds, he instructed the reader not to consider all the criticism of Rufinus’ wealth, mendacity, cowardice, pedantry, literary incompetence and so on, to be merely vengeful. Jerome thought that old men should not invent calumnies against the elderly, in the way that thugs slander gangsters, whores slander prostitutes and buffoons slander clowns.

For all the apparent poison and vitriol, Jerome held out what was, by his standards, an olive branch to his lifelong friend. But in the wake of this addition to the pamphlet a reconciliation was unlikely. In response, Rufinus tried to maintain a dignified silence. Jerome continued to denounce and ridicule his former friend even after he was dead.


-Saint Jerome at prayer, Orazio Gentileschi, late 16th century (Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, Turin, Italy).

The end of anger

In 404, Paula died, having consumed her entire vast fortune. Eustochium was left with crippling debts; another patron was urgently needed to save his monastery and Eustochium’s convent from starvation. Meanwhile, Alaric the Visigoth was terrorising the Empire; Ostrogoths and Vandals invaded and pillaged Italy as well as Gaul. Jerome was terrified: he understood just how difficult it would be from now on to solicit donations for his monastery.

In a letter of 407 Jerome counselled a wealthy Dalmatian, Julian, whose family had been brutally wiped out by invaders, to respond to all these tragic deaths by stripping himself of all possessions and remaining property and embracing Christ-like poverty. Similar appeals are found throughout his surviving correspondence from the period.


-The last communion of Saint Jerome, Giambattista Tiepolo, 1732/3 (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, Germany)

Throughout the last dozen or so years of his life, Jerome relied increasingly on Origen’s work as an aid to producing commentaries. Not because he necessarily agreed with what he found in Origen; on the contrary he was fuelled by a desire to contradict and deride Origenism. Origen’s errors obsessed him, and not merely because they provided a convenient vehicle for proxy attacks on Rufinus, who died in Sicily in 412, much to his former friend’s openly-expressed satisfaction. Jerome’s few remaining friends in Rome were militantly anti-Origenist. This too does not explain his fanatical monomania, and late-life animus against a writer who died eight decades before his birth.

From around 414 onwards, Jerome began a campaign of aggression, the last of his life, against the “menacingly effeminate” heretic Pelagius, who was as simperingly passive-aggressive as St Jerome was active-aggressive. Within a few years Pelagian teachings would be declared heretical. But Jerome’s literary warfare was interrupted in 416 when his monastery and the convent of Eustochium were attacked and set on fire by a mob of hooligans. Monks and nuns were brutally assaulted; one deacon died in the violence. The attackers were thought to be uneducated lay Christians who were attracted to Pelagius’ message.


-Saint Jerome writing, Caravaggio, 1607 (Co-Cathedral of Saint John, Valletta, Malta).

Jerome’s library was destroyed in the fire. He personally blamed his old enemy the Bishop of Jerusalem for enabling this attack, and doing nothing to stop it when it was going on. The Pope agreed with Jerome, and sent a blistering, humiliating rebuke to the bishop. But Jerome was shattered by the attack. His health rapidly declined. So did Eustochium’s. She died on 28 September 420; Jerome died two days later, on 30 September, in his ninetieth year.

Jerome prayed all his life to be released from his great vice of anger. He was, if only in death. Let his life stand as the ultimate proof that quite literally anybody can become a saint.”

“Martyrdom does not consist only in dying for one’s faith. Martyrdom also consists in serving God with love and purity of heart every day of one’s life.”
-St. Jerome

Love,
Matthew

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Gerstner gives his whole argument away immediately after this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love & truth,
Matthew

Lk 12:12 & self-doubt

-by Fr Michael Rennier

“This one thing he did makes all the difference.

I make inspiring statements for a living. Or at least, that’s the idea. If you knew me, you would know how hilarious it is that I would be tasked with speaking wisdom and sage advice into the hearts of supplicants. I’m just a normal guy. I like watching football and wrestling my kids. Sometimes I lose my temper and say things I regret or forget to say my prayers. Some days I behave in ways that make me proud and other times embarrassed. I’m average in every way. Every morning, though, I put on my cassock and vestments and step up to the altar to celebrate a Mass. Halfway through, I go to the pulpit and preach a homily meant to impart profound spiritual insight into the minds of a captive audience. The idea is that these homilies would be simple but also thoughtful, comforting but also challenging, truthful but gentle. It’s a tall order. I try my best but suspect that the results are mixed at best.

There’s a certain amount of trust at work in the creation of a homily. I have to trust that what I’m saying has value and that God will use it to encourage and inspire people. The words don’t come easy, and there are definitely days I doubt myself. Perhaps that’s a healthy reaction, to doubt. Or at least it’s healthy in moderation. It keeps me honest and makes me think through my words carefully, not assuming that whatever I say will automatically be profound. Most likely it’s not, which is why my homilies go through a process of several drafts. (If you thought the final version was mediocre, you should’ve seen the first one!)

At least with writing and homilies, I have a chance to rethink and shape my words. How about the parents out there who have to find the exact right words at the exact right moment to comfort their children when there’s a crisis? Or give them life-changing advice with the exact right phrase that will get through to them? What about all the times you’ve been asked for advice from a friend and have no idea what to say? You can’t just shrug your shoulders, but you also don’t want to say the wrong thing. It takes a lot of trust in yourself to respond in those situations. But respond we must. After all, that’s what parents do, and that’s what friends do.

As I was learning to trust that I was adequate to the task of preaching, I remember reading a story about St. Thomas Aquinas that opened my eyes to how pervasive self-doubt can be and how to overcome it.

In 13th-century Europe, Aquinas had become well known for intelligence. He was particularly admired for his clarity in teaching on the complicated topic of the Eucharist. There was a tense controversy at the time over how to define the Eucharist; Was it only a symbol? Did it stay bread even after the priest consecrated it? What does it mean to say that it contains the Real Presence of Jesus? St. Louis, King of France, invited Aquinas to come to the University of Paris to help settle the argument that was taking place among the faculty and students.

The job given to Aquinas, in other words, was to say something so incredibly inspiring that it would convince a crowd of people who loved arguing to stop arguing. Even though he was a brilliant man, he began to worry that nothing he could say would be brilliant enough to convince everyone. It was like trying to wrangle a roomful of cats, or I guess in medieval parlance it was like trying to get all the angels to dance on the head of the pin at the same time. It’s a scenario that wasn’t conducive to success, and the doubt of Aquinas was acute.

I particularly like what he did next. Even though he was experiencing self-doubt, he went ahead and prepared his thoughts the best that he possibly could and then he prayed and fasted for three days. As he sat in the chapel, he placed his written treatise about the Eucharist on the altar, symbolically placing it in God’s hands. Later, when he presented his argument at the University, it was unanimously accepted.

He went on to write widely on a number of complicated theological topics, but I wonder if his self-doubt ever quite left him entirely, because years later he was again in prayer in a chapel and God chose the opportunity to encourage him. The crucifix on the wall began to glow brightly. Jesus came alive and spoke, saying, “You have written well of Me, Thomas. What would you desire as a reward?” Aquinas broke into tears and replied, “None other than thyself, Lord.”

Everyone struggles with doubt, even people you would never think would be affected. Highly successful, intelligent, well-respected people have the same doubts that anyone else has. We all wonder if we’re good enough, if we said the right thing, or are truly adequate to our daily tasks. It occurs to me that, if we’re all thinking this way, there’s literally no pressure. The example of St. Thomas seems to me a particularly simple but effective way of dealing with self-doubt – do your best and then give it to God.”

Love & trust in Him, always. Lord, help us.
Matthew

Biblical anarchy


-by Trent Horn

“Different Protestants have different definitions of sola scriptura, but at its core, every definition makes Scripture a Christian’s highest authority. In doing so, it leaves no room for a divinely appointed Magisterium or Church that can authoritatively declare what Christians are obliged or forbidden to believe. This is evident in things like the 1978 Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, a popular statement among conservative Evangelicals, which says, “We deny that Church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than scripture or equal to the authority of the Bible.”

But in practice, it is the authority of a person’s interpretation of the Bible that becomes the highest authority. This leads to what Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid called “a blueprint for anarchy.”

You get people like Matthew Vines, who earnestly contends that the Bible is divinely inspired and, when properly interpreted, does not condemn modern same-sex relationships. Or you get people like Brandan Robertson, who reject fundamental tenets of Christianity by saying Jesus committed the sin of racism when speaking to the Syrophoenician woman. And this isn’t just Robertson, either, as there are denominations like Christadelphians who believe that Jesus had a “sin nature.”

At this point, a Protestant could say: no matter how clearly you state things, you’re always going to have unsaved people twisting Scripture and misinterpreting it. When it comes to the claim that Jesus sinned, only a degenerate person trapped in the darkness of sin could fail to apply Hebrews 4:15’s clear teaching to the question: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.”

Sola scriptura is defensible, these apologists claim, because incorrect interpretations of Scripture can always be refuted by the correct interpretation true Christians can always locate within the pages of holy writ. But this pushes the problem back and assumes that everyone will nicely go along with a uniform understanding of what Scripture even is.

For example, how could you respond to someone defending Jesus’ sinfulness who says he doesn’t believe that Hebrews is Scripture? After all, the letter is anonymous, and although it has been traditionally attributed to Paul, several Church fathers questioned its canonicity. The early Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea said, “Some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul.”

Even if Paul did write it, why believe that Paul’s words were divinely inspired? Pastor Robertson says there’s reason to doubt that, given that Paul was never one of Jesus’ disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Some Christians follow only the words of Jesus (similar to Bill Johnson’s Just Jesus movement). Others, like hyper-dispensationalists, take the opposite extreme and think Christians are bound to accept only some of Acts and the letters Paul wrote while he was in prison.

Without a Magisterium to appeal to, saying these views contradict Scripture assumes what the Protestant apologist is trying to prove—namely, which writings constitute Sacred Scripture. But because the Church has an authoritative teaching office, there is a way to set objective “ground rules” when it comes to understanding the meaning of Scripture.

A Protestant might offer three objections to this critique of sola scriptura. First, if the meaning of Scripture has been entrusted to the Church, then why hasn’t the pope or an ecumenical council infallibly defined every passage of Scripture and put all controversies to rest? For the same reason Protestants don’t have a divinely inspired biblical commentary: God chose not give this kind of revelation to the Church.

The Church hands on the Deposit of Faith, and, although a handful of biblical passages have been infallibly defined (such as John 3:5’s reference to water baptism), the Church allows biblical scholars a fair amount of latitude more generally when it comes to interpreting the Bible. The Church’s authority primarily presents itself in biblical interpretation by setting “guardrails” that make certain interpretations off-limits. For example, scholars might find new insights into the cultural interaction that took place between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, but they are prohibited from saying the interaction proves that Jesus is not fully divine or not free from sin.

Second, a Protestant might say the Catholic is kicking the can down the road: if there is “anarchy” when it comes to interpreting what the Bible says, then won’t a similar anarchy occur when people try to figure out what Church documents mean? In response, I would say this is a good reply to someone who says private interpretation can never be a part of the life of a Christian. That’s too narrow of a view, and the Catechism even says Christians must obey the dictates of a properly formed conscience (1790).

However, a more defensible position would be that interpretive clarity is at least far more feasible (or may even only be possible) through a living Magisterium. That’s because a Church that persists through history can teach doctrine through deliberate, repetitive acts that account for misunderstandings that arise in each generation. The static words of Scripture cannot articulate themselves anew for every generation.

Finally, a Protestant might point to the dissenters within the Catholic Church as evidence that having a Magisterium does not eliminate the problem of heresy. What about all the priests and lay people who argue for expanding the definition of marriage and the ordination of women? What good is a magisterium if it doesn’t prevent these voices from rising up in the Church?

Well, even when God directly spoke to his chosen people or his faithful angels, people rebelled. That’s the cost of giving creatures free will. But at least Catholic dissenters usually admit that what they’re peddling directly contradicts what the Church teaches. They may hope Catholic teaching will change in their favor, but they begrudgingly allow that their heresy is not Catholic teaching. A Protestant, on the other hand, who dissents from “traditional Christianity” can always say what he believes is what the highest authority in Protestantism has always taught, which others have simply failed to recognize.

So while dissenters and heretics will always afflict the body of Christ, Christ chose to protect his Church not by confining divine revelation to Scripture alone, but by instituting a Church. Jesus told his apostles, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16). The same principle animates the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Love & truth,
Matthew