Category Archives: Scripture

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ (Mt 5:5)


-by Br John Bernard Church, O.P., English Province

“Christ’s statement is startling, almost paradoxical. Blessed are those who mourn. Surely blessedness, happiness, is the very opposite of mourning, or sadness. This beatitude does not say that those who mourn now will be blessed later; that the promise of happiness is what awaits those who are sad. The contrast is much stronger, and much more baffling: happiness can be found in our mourning and our sadness now.

Our journey of Christian discipleship is directed towards our final beatitude, the beatific vision: when, freed from all transient desires, we finally see God. As St John says, “we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2). Our complete happiness lies in God alone.

But this context only serves to render Christ’s statement even more baffling: that in our mourning, our loss, our sadness, we are somehow participating in the final and complete blessedness and happiness of eternal life. Eternal life suddenly sounds quite miserable if it’s in the experience of our saddest moments here on earth that we get closest to it.

That’s clearly not the whole story. But it does contain some element of truth, and something deeply challenging. Letting go of what we hold dear, emptying ourselves of every attachment, so that slowly God takes His proper and rightful place as the center point of our every desire – this is difficult, and it is at times a process of loss and grief and sadness.

Christ prepares us in the Gospels for such a reality: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk 9:23). St Paul rejoices in his own sufferings. In his second letter to the Corinthians, St Paul sees the good brought out of their sadness: “for the sadness used by God brings a change of heart that leads to salvation” (2 Cor 7:10).

This is in no way a rejoicing at suffering for its own sake: suffering in itself is not good. But it is claiming that suffering remains a central component of the Christian life, and is used by God for our own good. Why?  Surely God desires that we are happy and fulfilled, bursting with the joy of the Gospel and brought to life amidst the goodness of creation. How do we make sense of a beatitude that tells us our happiness here and now is found in sadness and loss?

Happiness is never reducible to a single experience. But sadness and loss do play a central role, because they played a central role in the life of Jesus. Christ tells us that to be followers of Him we must take up our cross because that is what He did. Sorrow over what is lost, mourning at the entry of sin into the world, is what brought God Himself to undergo death on the cross. And so part of the reason sadness is a source of blessedness is because it can be our involvement in God’s great act of redemption. It can unite us to the cross.

And this beatitude becomes clear when we don’t neglect the second half. Blessedness is not found in mourning per se, there is nothing to be gained from suffering for its own sake. Rather blessedness is found in those who mourn and are comforted.

The reality of sadness and grief and suffering is that it awakens a need for consolation. When we are able to unite our sufferings to the cross, we open our heart to receive the comfort that God alone can give. The body and soul may still hurt while the character of the suffering remains. But when united to the cross and open to solace in God, its perspective is entirely altered. And here is found the true happiness, that which is enduring and a genuine foretaste of the eternal beatitude that awaits: the conviction that however empty, however pained we may feel, the love of God alone is our true consolation.”

Love of God and God’s love of us, Jn 14:27,…shall “now” be…, Our Lady of Sorrow, pray for us,
Matthew

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5:3)


-by Br Pablo Rodríguez Jordá, O.P., English Province

“‘If the Sermon on the Mount is a summary of all Christian doctrine, the eight Beatitudes are a summary of the whole Sermon on the Mount’ (Bossuet, Méditations sur l’Évangile, I.1). But what are the Beatitudes? Are they promises, blessings, conditions to be a disciple? Jesus, in the manner of a prophet, seems to peer into the future to foretell the destiny that awaits His disciples: they shall obtain mercy, they shall be comforted, they shall inherit the earth. But the Beatitudes strike us also as a summons to follow Him, addressed to all the broken-hearted, to those who weep, who are oppressed and toil for justice and peace. Jesus’ words have even the ring of some severe conditions to be his disciple: ‘if you are pure in heart, you shall see God’.

Yet the Beatitudes do not only reach out into the future. The first and the last, significantly, end with the same words, and refer to the now of those who hear: ‘for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. This seems to echo the words of Jesus in another place, when asked about the time of the coming of the kingdom: “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lk 17:20-21). Many have taken these last words, ‘the kingdom of God is in the midst of you’, to mean ‘the kingdom is within you’, as if it were found by turning inward, through some sort of introspection. But God always comes to meet us from the outside, through the word we hear proclaimed, or through the sacraments of His presence. The Gospels vibrate with the sense that the kingdom has arrived and one need not wait any longer. The time of salvation certainly stretches into the future but, more importantly, it begins today, in this present moment. And it begins, above all, in the encounter with Jesus, who always ushers in a fresh start in every human story.

‘The kingdom of God is in our midst’ – and if this does not refer to some remote event, nor to some elevated inner state of mind, then it must refer to Jesus Himself, the King Who has entered human history and inaugurated a new time, and who demands a specific answer from each of us. How are we to respond? Jesus says, the kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit. To those who realize, simply, that they are far from perfect, that they do not have everything sorted out, that there is something that they lack and they cannot give themselves, but can only receive from another. St Augustine is often quoted as saying, ‘God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them’. Here lies the key to the Beatitudes, to the Sermon of the Mount and indeed the Gospels. I do not have what I need most, and I cannot give it to myself. My own poverty becomes evident to me, but only then can I receive the kingdom, which is Jesus’ gift of Himself to me. And this happens not in some remote future but now, whenever we open our hearts and invite Him in.”

Love,
Matthew

Bibliolatry


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“In his 1929 book Survivals and New Arrivals, Hilaire Belloc examined the forces attacking the Catholic Church and its role in society. He put them into two chief categories: “survivals,” those “old forms of attack” that continue to be used by the Church’s enemies but are, in the main, on their way out; and “new arrivals,” the newer forms of attack that focus primarily on the Church’s moral teachings rather than its theological doctrines.

Among the “survivals” was a holdover from Protestantism Belloc termed the “biblical attack.” Its key element, he wrote, is “Bibliolatry”—elevating the Bible to the level of an idol. It is Bibliolatry that is the root of the myth that the Church locked and chained Bibles in medieval churches to prevent the laity from reading them. The implication of this myth is that if medieval people had been able to read the Bible for themselves, they would have recognized that the Catholic Church’s teachings are false and would have sought to free themselves from the yoke of Rome.

The notion that the Church restricts access to Scripture to control its interpretation comes from the Saxon monk-turned-revolutionary Martin Luther. Luther published three famous treatises in 1520 in response to the bull of Pope Leo X (r. 1513–1521), Exsurge Domine, that condemned many of Luther’s teachings.

In An Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, Luther exhorted Emperor Charles V and the German nobility to reject papal authority and establish a national German Church in opposition to Rome. He argued that Rome had built three “walls” around itself to maintain its hold on Catholics. He identified these walls as the following false teachings:

1) that the spiritual power is greater than temporal power;

2) that only the pope can authentically interpret Scripture; and

3) that only the pope can call an ecumenical council.

He warned the German nobility that they must be aware “that in this matter we are not dealing with men but with the princes of hell.”

To Luther, the belief that the pope is the only interpreter of Scripture (which is not in fact Church teaching but rather Luther’s erroneous understanding of it) was “an outrageous fable” and is not rooted in the only authoritative source of divine revelation that Luther recognized, Scripture itself. Instead, he put forth the idea that all Christians should be able to interpret Scripture for themselves, a doctrine that would lead to a multitude of rival Protestant denominations.

It is widely believed that, to facilitate the lay reading of Scripture, Luther was first to translate the Bible into German. He was not. The first Bible in the German vernacular was produced [Ed.  by the Catholic Church] in the eighth century at the monastery of Monse. By the fifteenth century, there were 36,000 German manuscript bibles in circulation, and a complete printed Bible in the German vernacular appeared in 1529, five years before Luther’s translation was published. In short, the Church made Scripture accessible to laymen long before Luther and the Reformation did.  [Ed.  The Catholic Church does not have a problem with the Bible in the vernacular.  It has an issue with bad translations and the sufficient education to appreciate in context what one is reading.]

There is, in fact, a sense in which the Bible is the product of the Catholic Church, as it was the bishops of the Church who decided which books circulating in the fourth century would be considered canonical. Indeed, the Church took great pains throughout its history to guard, defend, and preserve Scripture. Pope St. Damasus I (r. 366–383) first took up the task of publishing a vernacular version of Scripture, and he employed his brilliant yet irascible secretary St. Jerome (342–420) to accomplish the task. Jerome learned Greek and Hebrew to properly translate the word of God into the vernacular Latin.

His translation, which became known as the Vulgate, was not well received in North Africa, where a riot erupted over his version of the book of Jonah. Widespread acceptance of the Vulgate in the Church took time. Perhaps part of the resistance can be attributed to the long memory of the Church. Jerome’s new translation came less than a hundred years after Diocletian initiated the Great Persecution. One of his edicts mandated the surrender of all copies of the sacred writings, an event so destructive that its memory remained with the Church long after the persecution ended. The Church maintained a great respect and love for the sacred word, as evidenced by the efforts of monks to preserve it.

The sixth century was witness to the activity of a uniquely saintly man who renounced his worldly life to become a hermit. His reputation for holiness attracted many followers, and soon thereafter St Benedict of Nursia (480-543 AD) founded a monastery at Monte Cassino. Benedict’s vision for his monks was rooted in the idea that monasticism was a “school of divine service” in which the monk committed himself to a life of obedience focused on a routine of work, prayer, study, and self-denial. Benedict’s monks preserved and maintained Western civilization through their painstaking work of copying ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts, as well as devoting time to copying and illustrating Scripture.

Working in the scriptoriums of Benedictine monasteries in the Middle Ages was not easy. It took nearly a year to copy a Bible manuscript. The process was laborious and wearisome; as one monk recorded, “He who does not know how to write imagines it to be no labor; but though three fingers only hold the pen, the whole body goes weary.” Any copying work the monk did not finish during the day had to be completed at night, even in the cold winter months.

Bibles were not only copied but richly and beautifully illuminated with elaborate images. Bible illumination began in the fifth century with Irish monks who painstakingly prepared the skins of calves, sheep, or goats into vellum that was used for the manuscripts. The famous Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript, copied and illuminated in the eighth century, was the work of one scribe who used 130 calfskins and took five years to complete the work. The amount of labor that went into each copy of the Bible led to preventing their theft either by locking them in containers or chaining them to desks. In other words, these were security measures, not efforts to keep Scripture from the faithful.

Indeed, protecting an expensive Bible by securing it allowed greater, not lesser, access to it. Moreover, the Bible was usually placed in a public area of a church so those who could read could peruse its pages. The first mention of this protective policy occurs in the mid eleventh century in the catalogue of St. Peter’s Monastery in Weissenburg, Alsace, where it was recorded that four Psalters were chained in the church. Moreover, the practice was not exclusive to the Catholic Church: Protestants also utilized the well-known security measure, as evidenced by the chaining of the Great Bible (also known as the Chained Bible) published by command of King Henry VIII of England in 1539.

The Real Story

The Protestant principle of sola scriptura led to the myth that the Catholic Church kept the word of God from the faithful to maintain its authority; the chaining of bibles in medieval churches was seen as evidence of this. It also led to the false claim that Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German was the first such vernacular edition; in fact, there had been many vernacular editions preceding Luther’s, including St. Jerome’s Vulgate.

It was the Church that, far from suppressing the Bible, determined the canon of its books and then preserved and authoritatively interpreted the written word of God throughout its history. Catholic monks painstakingly preserved the sacred writings and beautifully illustrated them throughout the medieval period. These priceless manuscripts were chained or locked up in churches not to prevent their use but to protect against theft, thus allowing greater access to them, which was standard practice in both Catholic and Protestant churches until the printing press enabled mass production of bibles.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Is 40:6-8


-Mater Dolorosa, ca. 1674–85, Pedro de Mena, Spanish, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY. Carved wood sculpture, enhanced by paint and other media, including glass eyes and hair, reached a pinnacle of naturalism and expressive force in 17th-century Spain. Pedro de Mena’s virtuoso manipulation of these materials created startling likenesses of bodies and clothing. They encourage in the beholder an empathetic response to the suffering of mother and son, who appear as exemplars of worldly forbearance in the face of tragedy. Carved details such as the twisted and knotted rope binding Christ’s hands or the Virgin’s thin, deeply undercut drapery are joined by the subtle and descriptive painting in thin glazes of the silver and red brocade of the Virgin’s tunic and the bruises that cover Christ’s flesh. Mena’s desire was to make the figures seem physically present before the viewer. At the same time, they have a dignity and reserve that made them ideal works for contemplation.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Br Hyacinth Grubb, OP

“Disease and pandemics have always been a part of human life. While this current disease and the unprecedented world-wide shutdown imposes extraordinary hardships, illness is not a new thing. In fact, this infection embodies and manifests our already frail human condition; it is a shocking reminder of the daily reality we inhabit—not a break or contradiction.

But in the beginning, it was not so. Death and disease are the curse of original sin and the inheritance we receive from our first parents. Because our fallen state of sin is the cause of disease, no human work can completely heal it. No advance in medicine, or epidemiology, or public health policy will eliminate pandemics altogether, for our brokenness is too deep and beyond the reach of mere human progress. And so this coronavirus teaches us our frailty anew and reminds us of what has always been true: we walk in the vale of tears under the shadow of death, our lives are like grass that springs up beautiful in the morning but by evening withers and fades (Ps 90:6).

[There are] three ways to respond to our desperate and fallen state. We could respond with denial, perhaps imagining that scientific progress will fix everything, and ignore our inevitable fate. We have been choosing this option for far too long, embalming ourselves within a cocoon of entertainment and comfort and suffocating trivialities, dulling the latent pain of our precarious existence. Just look at how many shows there are to binge-watch, the vast scope of meaningless social media content, and see a society desperate to avoid an unavoidable experience of existential fragility.

We could also choose to flee, and refuse to live for fear of death. When the crisis hits, whether it’s a global sickness or a much more personal trial, it shakes us awake from our stupor and forces us to confront our mortality. And then we are tempted to run and hide, and shut everything down in terror.

The third choice is a noble one: confront the brokenness of the world and of ourselves, and in the face of danger and death choose courage and strength and virtue. We cannot fix what is so broken, but we can live well and seek what goodness lies in our power. This kind of noble choice traces itself back to the pagan philosophers, and perhaps a desire for this natural goodness lies behind recent interest in the stoic philosophers, or the similar strength exhibited in Jordan Peterson’s advice to “accept the terrible responsibility of life with eyes wide open” (12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, 27). And yet, even this noble choice is not enough. It is not enough, for it leaves us in the clutches of a merciless enemy, and cannot guide us out of the shadow of death.

It can sound harsh to summarize our human condition so bleakly. But only when you appreciate the fragility and brokenness of human life, only when you confront the curse of mortality, can you begin to appreciate the gift that Jesus Christ brings. He came to save us from death. If you’ve been reflecting on death in a time of pandemic, you will know what that means in a deeper way than you did before. He saved us from death. He saved us from disease. He saved us from this.

Marvelously, and in a way only God could imagine, He saved us not by destroying the fact of death, but by emptying death of its power. For the Christian, life is changed not ended: “We were buried with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Rom 6:4-5).

And here we find a better choice, which is not so much a choice as a gift. Enlivened by the grace of God poured forth from the pierced heart of Christ, living in these last days and knowing that this world and its vanities are passing away, we can mock death: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55) Yes, it is true that each one of us will die, and disease brings that truth closer than ever. But there is nothing of value that death can truly and permanently take from you, for by your baptism “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col 3:3).

Life is like this, and has always been like this, but we have a life that is beyond this life. For death and life have contended in that combat stupendous; the Prince of Life Who died reigns immortal.”

Love,
Matthew

Faith works.

Notwithstanding Gov. Cuomo…Catholics prioritize/emphasize the definition of faith in 1 Cor 13:13.


-by Luke Lancaster

“To prove that man is saved by faith alone (sola fide), apart from good works, many of our Protestant brothers and sisters direct us to Galatians 2:16, in which Paul says, “a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Paul does indeed separate “faith” from “works of the law” in regard to salvation, but we should notice from the get-go that those who equate “works of the law” with “good works,” such as loving others or receiving the sacraments, have already made a bit of a leap.

They think Paul is arguing that, in considering whether one will enter Heaven, God will look at whether he had faith that Jesus was both the Messiah and the atonement for our sins. On this view, God is not concerned with whether the person obeyed God by living a holy life or whether he was baptized. This is not what Paul said, however, for “works of the law” are not “good works” but rather those works required by Jewish law.

This is a distinction that is difficult for some Protestants to appreciate. Jews lived under the yoke of the Mosaic Law. A yoke is a heavy wooden bar which attaches to animals’ necks, allowing them to pull some heavy object. The “yoke” of the Mosaic Law was heavy, with hundreds of dictates that Jews dress a certain way, avoid certain foods, and the like. Christ, however, united Jews and Gentiles, and his yoke is “easy” and his burden “light” (Matt. 11:30). Christ gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us to love as He loved (John 13:34). So, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul is talking about something completely different than the points of contention between Catholics and Protestants.

In verses 11-16, Paul recounts a confrontation he had with Peter in Antioch, where Paul had been preaching. Upon his arrival, Peter would only eat with the Jewish Christians and not with the Gentile Christians in a nod to the Mosaic Law, which held that Jews could not eat with Gentiles, as the latter were “unclean” (Acts 10:28). In Antioch, however, the Jews and Gentiles had been eating together as united Christians, free from the demands of the Law.

When Peter stopped eating with Gentiles, the Jewish Christians in Antioch followed suit, and suddenly there was a division within the community! Peter acted this way even though he and Paul, both former Law-observing Jews, had found freedom from the Mosaic Law. This action from the first pope implied to the Gentile Christians in Antioch that, for someone to be a true Christian, they had to be circumcised and live like a Jew, obeying all of the laws of that Covenant to reach heaven. Only then could everyone eat together.

Paul emphatically rebuked Peter. Man reaches heaven by the universal action of faith, which is always “working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Both Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith, as one family of God, which automatically dismantles any separation between them.

Next, Paul draws out the —the Mosaic Law has been fulfilled by the New Law (Matt. 5:17). Jews and Gentiles have been united by Christ—He has torn down the wall separating them, and Paul cannot “build up again those things which I tore down” (Gal. 2:18). His identity is no longer found in the Mosaic Covenant, he has a new one: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

When Paul was baptized, he “died with Christ” (Rom. 6:8), and had therefore “died to the Law” (Gal. 2:19), leaving Mosaic Law for its fulfillment in the Messiah’s New Covenant kingdom of God. In this kingdom there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

From these texts we see that membership in the family of God (justification) is no longer based on the Mosaic Law-system, for Jesus established a new boundary for membership through His death. The Crucifixion of Christ, says Scripture scholar NT Wright, “reconstitutes the people of God, in a way which means that they come out from under the rule of Torah and into the new world which God Himself is making.”

The point of Galatians 2:16, then, is that Gentile Christians do not have to live like Jews. This is because going under the yoke of the Mosaic Law does not lead to salvation. Christians must follow Christ and His way of life (Gal. 6:2). They do what Christ commands, not what Moses commands (John 1:17). Christians need to live by faith, lovingly obeying Christ by loving others, which fulfills the whole Mosaic Law (Rom. 13:8). The Spirit empowers us to love others – and His presence particularly distinguishes the old yoke from the new (Rom. 8:1-4), which has the “circumcision of Christ,” baptism (Col. 2:11-12), and the new Passover, the Eucharist (1 Cor. 5:7, John 6:53).

Galatians 2:16 has nothing to do with the Catholic belief that good works and receiving the sacraments are necessary, but not sufficient, for salvation. Deciding who spends eternity in heaven remains entirely the prerogative of our loving Creator, Who has given ample guidance to the faithful. Our Protestant brothers and sisters have been misled about the meaning of the text, so let us gently show them their error (2 Tim. 2:25).”


-by Peter Kreeft, PhD

“A common Christian misunderstanding…sees…virtues as a sheer gift of God and not also as hard human work, that sees righteousness as automatically coming with the territory, or part of the package deal of accepting Christ as Lord.

But isn’t it true that righteousness, a righteousness far surpassing the four cardinal virtues, prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice, becomes available to us when we are joined to Christ? It certainly is. And isn’t this a supernatural righteousness, a fruit of the Holy Spirit Himself? Absolutely. But supernatural virtue is not subnatural virtue (Ed. super”natural”). It does not dispense with natural human foundations and with our responsibility to be active, not passive, in cultivation of virtuous habits.

A man with a violin case under his arm stood in Times Square looking lost. He asked a policeman, “How can I get to Carnegie Hall?” The policeman answered, “Practice, man, practice.” There is no other short cut to sanctity either.

God’s word says that “faith without works is dead” (Jas 2:26). The works of virtue are the fruit of faith, that is, of a live faith. Being saintly is our response to being saved. We cannot do either without God, but He will not do either without us. He respects our freedom. He makes His power and His grace available to us once we are joined to Christ. But if we simply sit back and let that spiritual capital accumulate in our heavenly bank account without making withdrawals and using it, we are exactly like the wicked and slothful servant who hid his master’s money rather than investing it, in Jesus’ parable of the talents (see Mt 25:14-30).

The answer to the faith-and-works issue is essentially a simple one, in fact, startlingly simple. It is that faith works. The whole complex question of reconciling Paul’s words on faith and James’ words on works, and of resolving the dispute that sparked the Reformation, the dispute about justification by faith, is answered at its core at a single stroke: the very same “living water” of God’s own Spirit, God’s own life in our soul, is received by faith and lived out by virtuous works.

The water of the Sea of Galilee comes from the same source as the water of the Dead Sea: the Jordan River. But the Sea of Galilee stays fresh because it has an outlet for the water it receives. The Dead Sea lives up to its name because it does not.

The same thing happens to the “living waters” from God as to the fresh waters of the Jordan. When we bottle them up inside ourselves, they become stagnant. Stagnant faith stinks, like stagnant water. And the world has sensitive nostrils.”

-Kreeft, Peter. Back To Virtue (pp. 66-70). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

“Justification by faith alone”, Jimmy Akin
What St Paul said in Romans – Ascension Press

Original sin

“Christians have long counted pride, aka, “the sin of Satan”, as a sin—indeed, the “original sin”, that generates every other and is the vital principle in each. C.S. Lewis speaks for many Christian moralists when he calls pride “the essential vice, the utmost evil.” He asserts that pride “is the complete anti-God state of mind” (Lewis, 1980, pp.121-22)

Pride is also the sin by which Satan fell. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) wrote, “‘Pride is the commencement of all sin'(1) because it was this which overthrew the devil, from whom arose the origin of sin; and afterwards, when his malice and envy pursued man, who was yet standing in his uprightness, it subverted him in the same way in which he himself fell. For the serpent, in fact, only sought for the door of pride whereby to enter when he said, ‘Ye shall be as gods.'”(2), (also see Gen 3:5)

Pride finds pleasure only in what sets it apart. That is why William May calls pride “the sin of the first person singular, I.” Proud people not only put themselves before others, they separate themselves from others. And, firstly, THE Other.  God is totally transcendent.

We can see, then, that pride is an assertion of the self that is both irreligious and antisocial. The actual form pride takes will vary from
person to person. In general, however, we may say that the “genus” pride appears in three “species”: vanity, conceit, and arrogance.  Pride goeth before THE Fall. (Gen 3)

This sort of self-assertion is incompatible with a true knowledge of God. As C. S. Lewis explains, “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all.” Of course, the proud are ready to admit theoretically that they are nothing before God, but they “are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people.” (Lewis, 1980, p. 124). Be it ever so religious, pride alienates humans from God. Vice decays wherever virtue flourishes. One should attack pride by cultivating humility, not striving to be co-equal with God, not striving to know (as in the biblical “know”, for biblically to “know” the name of something is to have power over it, as in Ex 3:14 “I AM WHO AM”, or as in Adam, whom God gave the power to name God’s other creatures, Gen 2:20, which is why demons are loathe to identify themselves in exorcisms), or desire to know, and therefore define, good from evil, as did Adam and Eve in eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Gen 3:5, as God had forbidden them, Gen 2:16-17. Is pride a “deadly sin”? Yes. Vanity, conceit, and arrogance disrupt and disorder individual lives, families, and communities.

Original sin, the absence of holiness and original justice, by which Adam and Eve enjoyed the preternatural gifts, which included infused science, or knowledge without learning, the gift of integrity allowing his passions to freely follow reason, and the absence of bodily suffering and death, is the fallen state, or condition, of man’s nature owing to an absence of sanctifying grace, the grace that makes the soul pleasing to God and able to live with Him in Heaven, in his soul at conception. It was caused by Adam and Eve’s first personal sin, which involved pride in wanting to be like God and disobedience. Adam, who was created in the state of original justice, immediately lost sanctifying grace by his first sin. All people, being his bodily descendants, are consequently conceived without God’s sanctifying presence in their souls, through no personal, actual fault of their own.

Therefore, mankind is subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence, defects that include a darkened intellect, making learning arduous; a will tainted with malice, inclining it to choose sin; and unruly passions ever ready to rebel against reason. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns man back towards God, but the consequences for man’s nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. (cf CCC 405)

You won’t find the phrase “original sin” in the Bible. The story of humanity’s “fall” in Genesis 3 doesn’t use the term, and St. Paul, one of the church’s earliest theologians, only hints at it in places. After the first century the early church fathers started to define it, but those in the East and West took different approaches.

Both groups acknowledged that sin had entered the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God’s command, but the Eastern fathers did not think guilt for that sin was passed on; rather, human beings in subsequent generations imitated their first ancestors’ misbehavior. The Western fathers, however, believed sin was passed on like a hereditary disease of the soul (thus the emphasis on baptism erasing the inherited “contagion of death,” to use St. Cyprian of Carthage’s phrase).

Saints Irenaeus and Augustine illustrate these two perspectives. For Irenaeus the disobedience of the first parents was rather like the actions of a child who didn’t know better. Augustine, however, thought the first sin had resulted from a very conscious, adult decision that actually damaged human nature and was passed on through procreation.

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, (130-202 AD) first alluded to the concept of original sin in the 2nd century in his controversy with certain dualist Gnostics. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, (354-430 AD) also shaped and developed the doctrine, seeing it as based on the New Testament teaching of St Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalms 51:5.

But a question remained: Why did the possibility of sin enter the world in the first place? Irenaeus thought the turning away of Adam and Eve from God resulted from their immaturity and weakness. Augustine saw the source in a fatal flaw in human nature: pride. For him pride meant the capacity to exercise free will to choose to try to live without God—to see yourself only in reference to yourself, not to God, and to have a sense of false autonomy that you forget you are created.

Through the Middle Ages and after the Reformation, Catholic theology began to emphasize another aspect of the doctrine of original sin: the absence of “sanctifying grace,” the indwelling spirit that brought the inner harmony.

Augustine’s formulation of original sin after 412 AD was popular among Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who equated original sin with concupiscence (or “hurtful desire”, the inclination to sin), affirming that it persisted even after baptism and completely destroyed freedom to do good. Catholic doctrine holds before the fall of Adam & Eve there existed, in contraposition, a state of Original Justice, in which no concupiscence existed. Before 412 AD, Augustine said that free will was weakened but not destroyed by original sin, the Catholic doctrine. But after 412 AD Augustine proposed that original sin involved a loss of free will except to sin, which the Catholic Church has rejected as doctrine. Modern Augustinian Calvinism, and indeed Protestantism holds this later view. The Jansenist movement, a Catholic heresy, which the Catholic Church declared heretical from 1653, also maintained that original sin destroyed freedom of will.

Love & His salvation,
Matthew

1. Augustine is here quoting from Ecclesiasticus 10:12-13, “The beginning of pride is when one departs from God, and his heart is turned away from his Maker. For pride is the beginning of sin, and he that has it shall pour out abomination…”
2. Philip Schaff, ed., A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Volume 5 St. Augustin: Anti-pelagian Writings, chapter 33.

Counterfeit Christ: Resurrection, only “spiritual”?

“Sit and smile.

That was all I could do, even though I wanted to rebut my debate opponent Dan Barker during his closing speech. Dan was once a Protestant pastor, but ever since his “de-conversion” in the 1980’s he has become a kind of preacher for atheism. In 2015 we debated whether or not God existed, and three years later we were on stage at Minnesota State University to debate a more specific question: “Does the Christian God exist?”

I thought the debate went well. I was able to neutralize Dan’s tactic of scattering dozens of difficult Bible verses in an effort to make the God of the Bible look like a moral monster. By the time we got to cross-examination, I was prepared to dive into one argument Dan had not addressed yet: my evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

But instead of addressing the evidence I raised, Dan just went right back to the alleged atrocities of the Old Testament. It was only during his closing statement, which was the last speech of the night, that Dan addressed my arguments.

He claimed that what really happened after Good Friday was that the apostles believed Jesus’ spirit rose from the dead while his body still lay in the tomb. For them, that was enough to turn defeat into victory; yet modern Christians have misunderstood their theology ever since.

But how can that be true if . . . ?
…St. Paul Believed in a Bodily Resurrection

It’s bad form to bring up new arguments or objections in your closing statement because your opponent has no opportunity to respond to them. I was frustrated, but I held my tongue. I didn’t get the chance that night to rebut Dan’s “spiritual resurrection” hypothesis.

But now I do have the chance—so here’s what’s wrong with it.

First, the earliest testimony we have about the Resurrection comes from St. Paul’s letters, which describe Jesus undergoing a bodily resurrection from the dead. Dan tries to get around this fact by claiming that Paul used a Greek word for Jesus’ resurrection that only refers to spiritual resurrection. Specifically, egeiro, ἐγείρω, which just means “rise” or “wake up.” He does not use the word that means “resurrection” (anastasis (ἀνάστασις), anistemi, (ἀνίστημι) Barker also claims:

“It is perfectly consistent with Christian theology to think that the spirit of Jesus, not His body, was awakened from the grave, as Christians today believe that the spirit of Grandpa has gone to heaven while his body rots in the ground. In fact, just a few verses later Paul confirms this: ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.’ The physical body is not important to Christian theology.”

Yet in Romans 1:4 Paul, says that Jesus was “designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection [anastaseos, ἀναστάσεως] from the dead.” Contra Barker, Paul does describe Jesus rising from the dead with a form of the Greek word anastasis, (ἀνάστασις). Moreover, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses egeiro (ἐγείρω),  and anastasis, (ἀνάστασις) interchangeably when speaking about the relationship between our future resurrection from the dead and Christ’s resurrection. Paul writes:

“Now if Christ is preached as raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται] from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection [anastasis, ἀνάστασις] of the dead? But if there is no resurrection [anastasis, ἀνάστασις] of the dead, then Christ has not been raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται]. If Christ has not been raised [egegertai, ἐγήγερται], then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:12-14).

Paul’s argument is simple: if we don’t rise from the dead, then Christ didn’t rise from the dead. But since Christ did rise from the dead we can be confident that we too will rise from the dead.

What about to Barker’s citation of 1 Corinthians 15:50 (“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”) and Paul’s general use of the term “spiritual body”? Well, we have to remember what Paul was up against in Corinth.

Pauline scholar John Ziesler believes that Paul was trying to convince people that the resurrection of the dead is not a mere reanimation of one’s corpse. For Paul, the “spiritual body” in the Resurrection “seems to mean something like ‘outward form,’ or ‘embodiment’ or perhaps better ‘the way in which the person is conveyed and expressed’ . . . a resurrection of the whole person, involving embodiment but not physical embodiment.”

When Paul writes, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” he is using a Semitism—a Jewish way of speaking—about the natural state of humanity apart from the grace of God. We can’t inherit the kingdom of God without being moved by God’s spirit.

However, that doesn’t mean that in this kingdom we will only be spirits. Spiritual, in this context, refers to a thing’s orientation as opposed to its substance. It’s like when we say the Bible is a “spiritual book” or when Paul writes, “The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one” (1 Cor. 2:15).

The subjects in these statements are not non-physical, ghostly apparitions but books and people ordered toward the will of God. As St. Augustine said, “As the Spirit, when it serves the flesh, is not improperly said to be carnal, so the flesh, when it serves the spirit, will rightly be called spiritual—not because it is changed into spirit, as some suppose who misinterpret the text.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Bible’s Easter stories are different


-by Cale Clark, Cale’s two most amazing discoveries in life have been that Jesus Christ would forgive him, and that Patricia would marry him. In 2004, Cale returned to the Catholic Church, which was founded by Jesus Christ, after spending ten years in Evangelical Protestantism, with much of that time spent in pastoral ministry.

“Anyone who has read the Gospels in a more than cursory manner has come across what appear to be contradictions between them as they report the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. This is no less true when we consider how they describe the most important event of all: the resurrection of Christ. If this event is not historical, says St. Paul, “our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

Speaking of St. Paul: before we consider apparent contradictions in the Gospels’ Easter accounts, we must remember that the Gospels are not our earliest written accounts of Jesus’ resurrection: those would be the letters of Paul. Even if the Gospels had never been composed, there would still be plausible literary testimony of the event, evidence with which a skeptic must deal. 1 Corinthians 15, which discusses the Resurrection, was written as early as A.D. 53, most likely prior to the publishing of at least some of the Gospels. What’s more, this chapter contains an even earlier ancient “creed” of sorts, crystallizing Easter faith in just a few lines (1 Cor. 15:3–7).

Even though the Gospels are not our earliest or only written sources on Easter, discrepancies in how they report resurrection phenomena have caused many to call into question their historical authenticity.

The empty tomb accounts

In Mark (which the majority of biblical scholars contend was the first Gospel composed), when the women disciples of Jesus arrive at the tomb early on Easter Sunday, the stone has already been rolled away. A “young man” in dazzling raiment (in all likelihood an angel) is inside the tomb. In Luke’s account, two men are inside. Matthew’s account has Mary Magdalene and another Mary arriving at a still-sealed tomb, but an earthquake suddenly occurs, whereupon an angel descends and rolls back the heavy stone. Three Gospels, and seemingly three different accounts.

Mark, Matthew, and Luke also give us slightly different lists of exactly which women were present. Mark has these women respond in fear, and states that they said nothing about this to anyone. In Matthew’s account, the two women meet Jesus on their way to inform the disciples of the Easter news. Luke does not say they ran into Jesus but rather that they immediately told the disciples, who didn’t buy their story. Same Gospels, and again, the accounts seem to differ.

So, why the differences?

Ancient biographies

As much as we might want the Gospels to conform to our modern conventions of history writing, they don’t read like contemporary police reports. But that doesn’t mean they don’t contain reliable accounts. In fact, they are perfectly consonant with how the ancients recorded history. The key is to understand the literary conventions of the time, which was  the mid-first century A.D. ,  and how the Gospels fit that mold.

Scholars like Michael Licona have noted that the genre of ancient literature that the Gospels most closely resemble is that of Greco-Roman biography. In reporting the speeches and activities of famous figures, writers utilized techniques in recording history that were perfectly acceptable at the time, such as compression (truncating longer speeches for the sake of brevity). The Gospel writers did this as well: they report that Jesus held crowds spellbound for hours with his preaching, yet his recorded sermons can be read in minutes.

Also, events were moved around in a narrative for thematic reasons. For example, did Jesus “cleanse” the temple at the beginning of his public ministry (John 2:13-22), or toward the end, as in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)? Or did he do it twice? In all likelihood, Jesus’ action at the temple occurred toward the end of his life, enraging the authorities and precipitating his arrest, but John places it at the beginning of his Gospel for symbolic reasons.

A culture of storytelling by memory

We also need to consider the way students (disciples) were taught in the Jewish tradition. Theirs was a culture of memorization. Scholar Craig Keener reports that students in Jesus’ day were capable of memorizing prodigious amounts of speeches and sacred texts. Even so, Jesus’ disciples were not expected to “parrot” his teachings, repeating them verbatim. In fact, if they had, they would have been considered poor students. Jesus himself probably gave different versions of the same basic “talk” as he preached in various settings. One example could be the similarities between the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 and the “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6:17-49.

Having a proper understanding of Jesus’ message was the key, which was proven by an ability to accurately re-present the essence—or the “gist”—of Jesus’ teachings in a way that would be relevant to one’s audience and its particular needs. The one thing disciples were most assuredly not allowed to do was to invent sayings or deeds of Jesus.

Evaluating the differences

Now let’s apply all of this to the synoptic Gospel accounts of the first Easter. Even though there is variance in secondary details (how many angels were at the tomb, for example), the basic message is the same: Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty of him early on Sunday morning, and the resurrected Christ later appeared to various disciples over a period of time.

What might be some reasons for these varying secondary details?

Ironically, the fact that these accounts are not in verbatim agreement actually enhances the probability that they are historical. Each Evangelist is making use of different sources of eyewitness testimony when composing his Gospel. The Evangelists didn’t “cut and paste” a prefabricated Easter account into their respective Gospels.

There are also literary or thematic reasons for the differences. In Mark’s Gospel, as noted above, the women react fearfully. Fear —even terror—in the presence of the divine is a constant Markan motif. When it comes to describing the most stupendous of all miracles—Jesus’ resurrection—Mark’s not about to change his style.

What of the variances in the lists of women who may or may not have been present? It’s reasonable that they all were present but that each evangelist is highlighting the names of those who may have been personally known or particularly important to his readers. The fact that some women were the first to encounter the empty tomb and the risen Jesus is what’s important here —and this is not something that the Gospel writers would have been eager to admit were it not the case.

The testimony of women in the first-century Jewish world was not considered reliable in a court of law. If one’s goal at this time was to convince readers that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and one made up a story about his being raised from the dead, one certainly wouldn’t present women as the first to discover the empty tomb and meet the resurrected Jesus —unless that’s what actually happened, as embarrassing as this might be in that particular cultural context.

All in all, when the Gospels are held up to the standards of first-century Greco-Roman historical writing, and to the standards of Jewish transmission of rabbinical teaching common to the period, they hold up quite well indeed. This is no less true when one considers their accounts of the (literally) earth-shaking events of the first Easter.”

Love, He is Risen!!
Matthew

Bible says pray to the saints


-“Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Marytrs”, Fiesole San Domenico Altarpiece, probably by Fra Angelico. Room 60, The National Gallery, London, UK.  Please click on the image for greater detail.

These panels come from the predella (lowest part) of the altarpiece made for the high altar of San Domenico, Fiesole. Fra Angelico was a Dominican friar (a member of the religious order founded by Saint Dominic) as well as a painter. The church was attached to his own convent – so although he made two other altarpieces for it, he was not paid for his work.

Predellas usually showed narrative scenes of the lives of the saints who were depicted in the main part of the altarpiece. This one is unusual: it shows Christ in glory in heaven, surrounded in the central scene by angels. This is framed by two panels showing rows of saints and Old Testament figures. These in turn are enclosed on either side by Dominican ‘Blessed’ figures who were holy and revered but not saints.

The mass of saints includes Dominicans and reflects their interest in the saints of their order and the place of the Dominicans in the broader church.


by Fr Mitch Pacwa, SJ,

“Most “Bible-believing” Christians object to the Catholic practice of praying to the saints. These critics worry that Catholics will go to hell for offending God with a neo-pagan system of worship. They have four main criticisms of the custom, all of which they push forward vigorously.

First, they accuse Catholics of worshipping Mary and the other saints. This violates the first commandment: “You shall not have any other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).

Additional proof that Catholics worship the saints is that they make statues of them, in violation of the next commandment: “You shall not make for yourself an idol or any image which is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters which are under the earth; you shall not bow down and serve them because I am the Lord your God” (Ex. 20:4-5). Catholics make statues of the saints whom they worship, thereby committing the double sin of polytheism and idolatry.

The second objection to praying to the saints is that, even if Catholics do not worship the saints, they are at least calling upon the spirits of the dead. Scripture explicitly forbids conjuring the dead in many passages:

“Do not turn to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek defilement among them” (Lev. 19:31). “The soul who turns to mediums and to familiar spirits to go whoring after them, I will set my face against that soul and cut him off from the midst of his people” (Lev. 20:6). “The man or the woman who becomes a medium or a familiar spirit will surely die; they will cast stones at them; their blood will be on themselves” (Lev. 20:27). “Let there not be found among you one who makes his son or his daughter pass through fire, a diviner of divinations, an occultist, a charmer, an enchanter, one who casts spells, or one who questions mediums or familiar spirits, or one who seeks the dead” (Deut. 18:10-11). Since the saints are all dead, no one is allowed to consult them without breaking these biblical laws.

A third objection is that there is only one mediator with the Father, Jesus Christ. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, a man, Jesus Christ, who has given himself as a ransom for all, the testimony in its own time” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). Jesus Christ is fully satisfactory as the mediator between sinners and God. No one should ever ask the saints for intercession.

A fourth objection is that the Bible does not instruct Christians to honor the saints, seek their intercession, or keep their relics. Without any biblical injunction to perform these things, a Christian risks displeasing God.

The Catholic Church always has taught that a Christian can worship only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No creature, no matter how good or beautiful–no angel, no saint, not even the Virgin Mary–deserves adoration.

This is the teaching of the creeds (Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in one God”; Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God”) and the catechisms (Baltimore Catechism, question 199: “By the first commandment we are commanded to offer to God alone the supreme worship that is due him”) and the Church councils (Nicaea, in 325; Rome in 382; Toledo in 675; Lateran IV in 1215; Lyons in 1274; Florence in 1442; Trent from 1545-1563; Vatican I from 1869-1870).

The Catholic Church condemns polytheism and idolatry alike. Pope Dionysius condemned the division of the one God into three gods, for there can be only one God, not three (Letter to Dionysius of Alexandria, A.D. 260). Pope Damasus I condemned the worship of other gods, angels, or archangels, even when God gave them the name of “god” in the Bible (Tome of Damasus, approved at the Council of Rome, 382).

John Damascene’s Apologetic Sermons Against Those Who Reject Sacred Images gives an authentic presentation of the Catholic attitude towards statues and pictures of Mary and the saints: “If we were making images of men and thought them gods and adored them as gods, certainly we would be impious. But we do not do any of these things.”

The Baltimore Catechism, question 223, confirms this by teaching: “We do not pray to the crucifix or to the images and relics of the saints, but to the persons they represent.”

Catholic doctrine absolutely rejects the worship of anyone but God and rejects all worship of statues, whether of Christ or the saints. What the Church does allow is praying to the saints in order to ask for their intercession with the one true God. The Church also allows one to make statues to remind a person of Christ or the saint:

“Further, the images of Christ, of the Virgin Mother of God, and of the other saints are to be kept with honor in places of worship especially; and to them due honor and veneration is to be paid–not because it is believed that there is any divinity or power intrinsic to them for which they are reverenced, nor because it is from them that something is sought, nor that a blind trust is to be attached to images as it once was by the Gentiles who placed their hope in idols (Ps. 135:15ff); but because the honor which is shown to them is referred to the prototypes which they represent.

“Thus it follows that through these images, which we kiss and before which we kneel and uncover our heads, we are adoring Christ and venerating the saints whose likenesses these images bear” (Council of Trent, Session XXV, Decree 2).

This mirrors the Old Testament attitude. Soon after they received the commandment prohibiting the making of images for worship, the Israelites were told by the Lord to “make two cherubim of beaten gold; you will make them for the two ends of the covering [of the Ark of the Covenant]” (Ex. 25:18). After many Israelites suffered punishment in the form of snakebite, at the Lord’s instruction “Moses made the bronze serpent and he set it upon a pole, and it happened that if a serpent bit a man, and he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived” (Num. 21:9).

The gold cherubim and the bronze serpent were not objects of worship. The cherubim symbolized the presence of God’s angels at the Ark of the Covenant, and the bronze serpent was God’s means of healing the people of poisonous snakebite. So too do Catholics make statues to represent the presence of the saints and angels in churches, homes, and elsewhere.

The Bible teaches that the attempt to contact the dead through seances and mediums is a serious sin. The Catholic Church, being a Bible-believing Church (actually, of course, it’s more than that–the Catholic Church is the one and only Bible-writing Church), condemns all forms of superstition and conjuring the dead.

The Baltimore Catechism explains the seriousness of the sin of superstition: “Superstition is by its nature a mortal sin, but it may be venial either when the matter is slight or when there is a lack of full consent to the act” (question 212).

When the Catholic Church encourages devotion and prayer to the saints, in no way does it intend for its members to practice some form of superstition. Never does the Church instruct the faithful to conjure the spirits of the saints to carry on some two-way communication. There are no seances that try to make them appear, speak messages, tap tables, or anything of the sort.

The faith of the Church is that the saints are not really dead, but are fully alive in Jesus Christ, Who is Life Itself (John 11:25; 14:6) and the bread of life who bestows life on all who eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:35, 48, 51, 53-56). The saints are alive in heaven because of the life they have received through their faith in Christ Jesus and through their eating of His body and blood.

The book of Revelation shows the saints worshipping God, singing hymns, playing instruments, making requests to Christ to avenge their martyrdom, and offering prayers for the saints on earth (Rev. 4:10, 5:8, 6:9-11).

Because they are alive, we believe that we can go to them to intercede for us with God. We do not need to see apparitions or hear their voices in order to believe they will pray for us in heaven. We trust that the saints will accept our requests for help and will present them to Christ for us.

The Catholic Church has always believed that Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and man. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus alone by which people are saved.

In 449 AD Pope Leo the Great wrote his Tome against Eutyches, who taught that Jesus Christ had only one nature, not two. (This was the heresy of monophysitism.) In the Tome, which the Council of Chalcedon accepted as the authentic Catholic teaching on Christ, he quotes 1 Timothy 2:5 as the authentic Catholic doctrine: “Hence, as was suitable for the alleviation of our distress, one and the same mediator between God and men, Himself man, Christ Jesus, was both mortal and immortal under different aspects.”

The fifth session of the Council of Trent (1546) laid out the belief in Jesus the one true mediator as the norm of Catholic faith: “[Original sin cannot be] taken away through the powers of human nature or through a remedy other than the merit of the One Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who reconciled us to God in His blood, having become our justice, and sanctification, and redemption.”

The schema of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Principal Mysteries of the Faith, drafted for the First Vatican Council (1869-1870), includes the unique mediation of Jesus Christ as one of these principal mysteries: “Truly, therefore, Christ Jesus is mediator between God and man, One man dying for all; He made satisfaction to the divine justice for us, and He erased the handwriting that was against us. Despoiling principalities and powers, He brought us from our longstanding slavery into the freedom of sons.”

These quotations from official Catholic documents give unambiguous proof that the Church believes Jesus Christ and no other is the one mediator between sinful humanity and the righteous God. How does the Church integrate this essential doctrine of the faith with the belief that we can pray to the saints?

First, God expects us to pray for one another. We see this in both the Old and New Testaments.

In a dream, God commanded King Abimelech to ask Abraham to intercede for him: “For [Abraham] is a prophet and he will pray for you, so you shall live” (Gen. 20:7). When the Lord is angry with Job’s friends because they did not speak rightly about God, he tells them, “Let my servant Job pray for you because I will accept his [prayer], lest I make a terror on you” (Job 42:8).

Paul wrote to the Romans: “I exhort you, brothers, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to strive with me in prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the disobedient in Judaea and that my ministry may be acceptable to the saints in Jerusalem, so that in the joy coming to you through the will of God I may rest with you” (Rom. 15:30-32).

James says: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16-17). Thus, according to Scripture, God wants us to pray for one another. This must mean that prayer for one another cannot detract from the role of Jesus Christ as our one mediator with God.

Second, the reason that Christians have the power to pray for one another is that each person who is baptized is made a member of the Body of Christ by virtue of the Holy Spirit’s action in baptism (1 Cor. 12:11-13). It is because the Christian belongs to Jesus Christ and is a member of his Body, the Church, that we can make effective prayer.

The reason we pray to the saints is that they are still members of the Body of Christ. Remember, the life which Christ gives is eternal life; therefore, every Christian who has died in Christ is forever a member of the Body of Christ. This is the doctrine which we call the Communion of the Saints. Everyone in Christ, whether living or dead, belongs to the Body of Christ.

From this it follows that a saint in heaven may intercede for other people because he still is a member of the Body of Christ. Because of this membership in Christ, under his headship, the intercession of the saints cannot be a rival to Christ’s mediation; it is one with the mediation of Christ, to whom and in whom the saints form one body.

Some Christians–most Protestants, in fact–deny that the Bible gives support for devotion to the saints, but they are incorrect. The Bible encourages Christians to approach the saints in heaven, just as they approach God the Father and Jesus Christ the Lord: “But you have approached Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels, and the assembly and church of the firstborn who have been enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and spirits of righteous ones who have been made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood which speaks better than that of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24).

It is clear the Christian has approached a number of heavenly beings: the heavenly Jerusalem, the angels, God the judge, and Jesus the mediator. “The assembly and church of the firstborn who have been enrolled in heaven” and the phrase “spirits of righteous ones who have been made perfect” can refer only to the saints in heaven.

First, they are spirits, not flesh and blood. Second, they are righteous people, presumably made righteous by Jesus Christ, “who is our righteousness.” Third, they have been made perfect. The only place where spirits of perfected righteous people can dwell is heaven.

Furthermore, “spirits of righteous ones who have been made perfect” is a perfect definition of the saints in heaven. This passage is saying that, just as Christians approach the angels, God the judge, Jesus Christ, and his saving blood, so also must we approach the saints in heaven.

Does the Bible say we should approach the saints with our prayers? Yes, in two places. In Revelation 5:8 John saw the Lamb, Christ Jesus, on a throne in the midst of four beasts and 24 elders. When the Lamb took the book with the seven seals, the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb in worship, “each one having a harp and golden bowls of incenses, which are the prayers of the saints.”

Similarly, in Revelation 8:3-4 we are told that something similar happened when the Lamb opened the seventh seal of the book: “Another angel came and stood on the altar, having a golden censer, and many incenses were given to him, in order that he will give it with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne. And the smoke of the incenses went up with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.”

These texts give us a way to understand how the saints offer our prayers for us. Our prayers are like nuggets of incense. They smell sweet and good. The 24 elders around the throne, who are saints, and the angels offer these nuggets of incense for us. They set them on fire before the throne of God.

This is a beautiful image of how the intercession of the saints works. Because the saints are so close to the fire of God’s love and because they stand immediately before him, they can set our prayers on fire with their love and release the power of our prayers.”

Love, & the joy of the saints,
Matthew

“At Home with the Lord”: 2 Corinthians 5:8 & Purgatory

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that there is an intermediate state after death, like purgatory, when the Bible says that the only place for a Christian to be (besides this life) is heaven?

Referring to a soul’s “entrance into the blessedness of heaven,” the Catechism teaches that it will enter either “through a purification or immediately” (1022). This presupposes that it’s possible for a soul to die in God’s friendship but yet not be present with the Lord in heaven.  Some Protestants view Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 as contradicting this belief. Paul writes:

“So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Since the Bible says that for a Christian to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord,” there can’t be any intermediate state in the afterlife.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. Paul doesn’t say what the challenge assumes he says.

Protestants who appeal to this passage often fail to realize that Paul doesn’t say that “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” Paul simply says, “While we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” and that “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Protestants may reply that although Paul doesn’t exactly say what the challenge claims, that’s what he means. Are they right? Does the logic follow? Does the statement, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” mean the same as, “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord”?

Suppose I’m at work, and I’m wishing that I could instead be away from work, and at home. Can we conclude from this that if I’m away from work, I must automatically be at home? Doesn’t seem like it. I could be away from work, eating lunch at McDonald’s. I could be away from work, on my way home, but sitting in traffic. So, it’s fallacious to conclude from this verse that, once away from the body, a Christian must immediately be present with the Lord.

2. Even if we concede the interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:8 that the challenge asserts, it still doesn’t rule out purgatory.

But let’s assume for argument’s sake that the interpretation this challenge offers of 2 Corinthians 5:8 is true, and that to be away from the body is to be immediately present with the Lord. That still wouldn’t pose a threat to purgatory.

First, because the challenge assumes that purgatory involves a period of time (during which we are “away from the body” but not “with the Lord”). But as we’ve seen, the Catholic Church has never defined the precise nature of the duration of purgatory. We simply don’t know what the experience of time is beyond this life. If purgatory did not involve a duration of time as we know it, it would be perfectly compatible with the challenge’s interpretation of this verse.

A second reason is that the challenge assumes purgatory is a state of existence away from the Lord. But, as we have also seen, purgatory could very well be that encounter with the Lord that we experience in our particular judgment, as we “appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). This makes sense because Paul describes the soul’s judgment as being one of a purifying fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). It makes sense for God’s presence, not his absence, to be part of our soul’s purification.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Shouldn’t you make sure that the Bible passage you use to challenge a Catholic belief actually says what you think it says?

AFTERTHOUGHT: The early Christian writer Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-220) affirms the existence of a state after death before entering heaven when he writes, “Inasmuch as we understand the prison pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades [Matt. 5:25], and as we also interpret the uttermost farthing to mean the very smallest offense which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection.”

Love,
Matthew