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Missing Typology

April 4, 2014

The wicked said among themselves, thinking not aright: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the LORD.  To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us,  because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways.  He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.  He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father.
Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him.  For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes.  With revilement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience.  Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”
These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them, and they knew not the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense of holiness nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.

Wisdom 2:1A, 12-22

This was the first reading for the Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent 2014.  It was extremely poignant to me for a couple of reasons.  I will admit right off that I am only somewhat familiar with the Old Testament.  Mia culpa but I honestly have a very difficult time reading the Old Testament because I’ve had a hard time staying with much of the subject matter.  I think this has seemed to bother some non-Catholic people I know because, as a Catholic with all those “extra books”, I am expected to have studied and read them all in order to verify their validity.  That being said I will admit that I haven’t read through the Book of Wisdom completely yet.

At any rate it was poignant to me because of its context.  In the strongest language possible they’re talking about the events of Christ’s life and Passion.  This is a stark prophesy of exactly what will happen to Christ and out of minds who hated Him.  I love reading Old Testament passages pointing to Christ and discovering it for the first time, as I did today, gives me a wondrous sense of amazement at so many Holy passages which prophesy His Life, Death, and Resurrection and ultimately give promise to Who He Is and What He came to accomplish for us.

Secondly, it saddens me on some level because it is so magnificent in its testament to Jesus Christ along with so many other wise and Holy words that so many don’t have the opportunity to read because those books are missing from their Bibles.  In its entirety the Scriptures lay out and compliment each other, but when certain texts are missing from the Old Testament, blanks are left in the New.  A stark example of this is in Hebrews 11 where it says in verse 35:

“Women received their dead by resurrection.  Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life” (Heb. 11:35).

Jimmy Akin explains this saying, “There are a couple of examples of women receiving back their dead by resurrection in the Protestant Old Testament. You can find Elijah raising the son of the widow of Zarepheth in 1 Kings 17, and you can find his successor Elisha raising the son of the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4, but one thing you can never find—anywhere in the Protestant Old Testament, from front to back, from Genesis to Malachi—is someone being tortured and refusing to accept release for the sake of a better resurrection. If you want to find that, you have to look in the Catholic Old Testament—in the deuterocanonical books Martin Luther cut out of his Bible.

The story is found in 2 Maccabees 7, where we read that during the Maccabean persecution, “It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. . . . [B]ut the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying, ‘The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us . . . ‘ After the first brother had died . . . they brought forward the second for their sport. . . . he in turn underwent tortures as the first brother had done. And when he was at his last breath, he said, ‘You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life'” (2 Macc. 7:1, 5-9).

One by one the sons die, proclaiming that they will be vindicated in the resurrection.

“The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them . . . [saying], ‘the Creator of the world, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws,'” telling the last one, “Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers” (2 Macc. 7:20-23, 29). This is but one example of the New Testaments’ references to the deuterocanonicals.”¹

There are several others² but I want to get back to this passage of Wisdom.  I found that having an “insight” into the minds of those who felt themselves religious but didn’t know Jesus as Messiah because they thought they knew all the signs and in turn hating Him and rejecting Him gave me more inspiration to study these books more thoroughly because they do point to the events from the New Testament and help expound on the things that took place in His time here.  In fact, the second reading of the day is from St. John’s Gospel and says in part,

“Some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, ‘Is he not the one they are trying to kill?  And look, he is speaking openly and they say nothing to him.  Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ?  But we know where he is from.  When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.’
So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said, ‘You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.  I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.’
So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come.”

John 7:25-30

The books that were removed from the Bible by Martin Luther are certainly worth reading and I would encourage anyone to go pick up a complete Bible and do just that.  I would encourage people to get a Bible instead of looking for them online or through other Protestant sources because not all Protestant lists are the same and can include titles to letters or books which range from canonical to spurious (those whose subject matter is theologically inconsistent with Apostolic teaching i.e. – Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Judas).

The Books which had been accepted as canonized Scripture in Christianity and which were taken out of the Bible by Luther are:

  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Additions to Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4-16:24)
  • Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon)
  • Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus or Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira)
  • Baruch, including the Letter of Jeremiah (Additions to Jeremiah in the Septuagint)
  • Additions to Daniel:
    • Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children (Vulgate Daniel 3:24-90)
    • Susanna (Vulgate Daniel 13, Septuagint prologue)
    • Bel and the Dragon (Vulgate Daniel 14, Septuagint epilogue)
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees

Read them for yourselves if you haven’t.  It will help expound on and “fill in the blanks” to the New Testament ultimately, I think, making your faith life all the richer for having understood in greater depth the elements which preceded, which comprise, and which explain elements of our faith today.

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1. http://bit.ly/1efwsTU
2. Deuterocanonical quotes in the New Testament – http://bit.ly/QLtCRM

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Meaningful Words

March 7, 2014

Everyone in the English speaking world today takes for granted the fact that their language is interspersed with words that have root meanings of ancient origin.  Who wouldn’t?  Honestly, there are very few times that I can recall doing something and wondering what the ancient root of the word is that I’m thinking about.  Sure there’s been times when I’ve wondered where we got a phrase or where that vernacular came from but, like most people, I haven’t devoted a lot of energy to the study of my own language’s root words outside of an obscure mandatory high school course of study which is obsolete in public American classrooms called  Etymology .

However, when it comes to my faith much, much, much more rests on understanding the meanings of words and their implications since, by doing so, we understand the depths of our faith all the more clearly.  Some of the time Latin words feed our understanding of faith since most of our own language has Latin root words, thus our “faith words” utilize the Latin origin.  Sometimes it’s Greek since most of the Bible was read and studied in Greek in the ancient world.  For the Latin terms, however, we have words like sanctus which is the Latin word for ‘holy’ or ‘hallowed’ (past participle of sancīre meaning “to hallow”).  From it we get our word “sanctified”.  This is the beginning of the eternal call of the Seraphim in Heaven (cf. Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8) and what is thus recited in a Catholic Church prefacing the Eucharistic prayer, “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus…” or “Holy, Holy, Holy…” It is also where we get the word, “saint” which of course means holy person.

Some words have changed meaning in the course of time like the word “apology” which is from the Latin word apologia which in turn is from the Greek word apologiā.  It means “an explanation or an excuse” this gradually came to primarily mean “an expression of regret or contrition for a fault.”  The derivative of this word, “apologetics” retains the definition of the latter, or older definition, “an explanation or excuse” for something.  It is specifically used to refer to a branch of study which is concerned with the explanation of matters of belief.

While this course of study offers interesting insight into one’s words and terminology there is far more to be gained by reviewing the passages of Scripture in the context of their original language in order to more fully understand what is being conveyed to the reader in the passage.  We can turn to that oft disputed passage of Scripture in Matthew 19 where Jesus gives Simon the new name “Rock”¹ and thus confers upon him a great title and responsibility.  We can also look at another passage in the Gospel where a great title and responsibility was handed on to a human being whose unique and singular title is being grossly and sadly misused today: the greeting to Mary in the Gospel of Luke.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:26-28)
[Other translations say, “Hail, favored one!” or “Hail, highly favored one!” this is a poorer translation of the original Greek words used and will be discussed more fully later on.]

When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary in the first chapter of Luke and he greets her, he’s not simply making a statement.  He’s not saying, “Hello, Mary, boy does God really favor you!  You are so blessed!  Guess why!”  First, considering everything Mary went through, all her heartbreak and sorrow, I think the first thing I’d do when I got to Heaven is to go up to Gabriel and say, “Whatdaya mean ‘God really favors me and I’m so blessed?'”  Without the understanding of cultural and lexological meaning this phrase is being taken at face value and extrapolated from its genuine meaning to this unintended meaning.

This is where the understanding of language comes in and since the original languages the words were written in are not used now (Koine Greek), and since it’s also being translated into our language whose structure and grammatical makeup so differ, the intentions and meanings are lost without the scholastic benefits to impart to the reader.  The less that knowledge abounds all the more gives rise to incomplete understandings which, in turn, give rise to misused and misapplied beliefs.  In utilizing vernacular with today’s understanding of the English word rather than the historical understanding of it in context with the ancient Christological beliefs one applies a meaning to words that never existed or which impart an idea contrary to the commonly understood meanings of the terms used.  So to be “blessed” or  “favored” by God today implies one has obtained an abundance of good events or things which have come into their lives.  Although Mary and many in the Bible who shared a high favor with God often had just the opposite type of life.  Understanding this is not simply a “Catholic thing” trying to ‘make Mary distinct’ rather it is about correcting a claim to something which was never ours to claim to begin with and to which we are not rightly able to properly claim about ourselves.

The statement of the angel Gabriel to Mary, “Hail, highly favored one!” must be understood in it’s proper verbal and grammatical context.    First, as mentioned before, “Hail, favored/highly favored one!” is a poorer translation of the statement.  The more accurate translation is, “Hail, full of grace!”  This matters because of the Greek word that Luke uses for this greeting specifically and directly speaks of being ‘perfectly filled with grace’.  No one makes this bold a claim about themselves since it implies a self-determined very high state of holiness, but this is exactly the point since what Gabriel is really stating about Mary here is not that she’s “greatly favored” with God, but that she’s a very righteous person before God because she’s filled perfectly with grace.

The Koine Greek words that are used by Luke in this passage are, Chaire, kekaritomene.  The first word charie means: “be cheerful, hail, rejoice”.  Kekaritomene is formed from the same root word charitoo whose varient word also appears in Ephesians 1:6.  Protestants will argue that since a varient of charitoo is used elsewhere in the Bible it has no special meaning in Luke’s Gospel.  However, the variant of charitoo used in Ephesians is echaritosen.  The difference being that echaritosen means, “he graced” (or bestowed grace) and signifies a momentary action, an action brought to pass while kekaritomene means “a perfect action which is considered to have been completed before the time of the speaker.”  The Greek perfect tense means “a present state exists which took place at some point in the past and is continuing on in the present.”
“It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitomene as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace.” (Blass and DeBrunner, Greek Grammar of the New Testament).
Kekaritomene shows a completeness with a permanent result and denotes continuance of a completed action (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar [Harvard Univ Press, 1968], p. 108-109, sec 1852:b; ibid).²

In other words, the word in Greek that Luke chooses to use when he writes about Gabriel’s greeting to Mary is both unique and special because what Gabriel is telling Mary when he greets her is, in fact, recognizing in her a state of continued, completely full, perfect grace which has been present in her from a past action and is in effect in this present moment.  Therefore, the fact that the angel greets Mary this way is anything but common and is testified to by Mary’s reaction in the very next verse when it says, “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.” (Also, because of the fact that Luke states that internally Mary [as evidenced by the passage, “considered in her mind”] was wondering what this meant traditionally has indicated that Mary herself was telling Luke this story, or, at the least, this version of the story was originally conveyed by Mary herself.)

This extremely unusual greeting which even Mary herself was greatly troubled by was given by Heaven to her and her alone because nowhere else in the Bible is the word with the same tense and meaning as kekaritomene used for anyone else.  Unless an individual really believes they have been endowed by Heaven with a completely full state of perfected grace supernaturally given to them in the past and continuing all the way into the present moment, this self-appointed statement, which is taken from this very passage of Scripture, is erroneous and misapplied.

What Mary has been given here is validation of an extraordinarily high honor confirmed by Heaven that she had been, in a perfect way, filled with Grace and that Grace was maintained to the present day. This is not an ordinary honor that was given to all believers and to utilize it in a manner with which is is not intended is a disservice and a dishonor to her unique role in Christianity. One may not believe all the dogmas proclaimed by the Catholic Church but she’s due a great and unique honor and this Scripture verse lends remarkable insight into that truth.
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1. Aramaic – Kepha (Cephas) ; Greek – Petros. (The dispute argues from the point of the two forms of the word “‘rock” used in the passage, petros and petras.
2. ref. excerpted from http://bit.ly/1g3847V author pfairban

Who Founded Your Church?

January 26, 2014
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word,
that they may all be one…
The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them,
that they may be one even as we are one,
I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one…”
The Gospel According to St. John

This week marks the beginning of the annual week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  It seems a remarkably difficult task and the accomplishment of it seems ever more impossible as the years and divisions seem to multiply in the ranks of Christianity.  It seems that new (or reintroduced) theology springs up every day.  In some places there is even a reintroduction of ‘archaic’ sounding titles for the ministers like “bishop”, “apostle”, and “prophet” preceding their names.  In some circles there is a desire to imitate the early or primitive church and in some a reach back even further to celebrate and imitate elements of Judaism as a way of “connecting with our roots”.  Some churches (including those with very well known names) do not even hold to Trinitarian doctrine and claim they are Christian.  Some incorporate New Age ideas and practices.  Some which claim Christian titles eschew traditional ideas about God and insist on calling Him both Father and/or mother or still further, refusing to acknowledge the Trinity by Who They Are but rather categorize only by one task – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

With this ever more fractured construction upon the ideas of Christianity how are we ever to “be one” as Christ prays?  St. Paul tells us, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household [the church], having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.”  (Eph 2:20)  St. John tells us in Revelation, “And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God… And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. ” (Rev 21:10,14)  We also have the Gospel of St. Matthew which Jesus states to St. Peter, “Thou art Peter [“Rock”, “Kepha” Aramaic, “Cephas”, anglicanized] and on this Rock [Kepha/Cephas] I will build my church. (Matt 16:18) The idea laid out here is that the foundation which has been laid by Jesus Christ establishing His Kingdom here on earth and which, the verse goes on to tell us, “the gates of Hell shall not” either “overpower it”, “conquer it” or “prevail against it” depending on which translation you read.

Which Church was founded by Jesus Christ, has withstood the test of time (since it cannot be overpowered, conquered or prevailed against by the forces Hell), and was laid on the teachings of the apostles with Christ as their cornerstone?  This foundation cannot be laid again.  If the Church was re-founded it cannot be re-founded on the Rock which was Peter upon the Rock which is Christ.  Instead of being re-founded, it is reinvented.  Because of the diversity and disunity within the Protestant faith there comes an idea that the Church has to be an invisible entity since unity within the Protestant faith is found only in core beliefs such as the Trinity and Trinitarian formula Baptism along with the belief in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Similar though many faith traditions are to each other, there is still division, even on the slightest of points, but which caused enough of a rift to form a separate church and a refusal to remain associated together.  From these branches sprang other branches whose main theology differs no so much from their association with a church but enough to separate within the church.  There are any number of different governing bodies which a Protestant may choose to adhere to yet still remain in their denomination.  Mostly these fall along the lines of a “liberal”‘ and “conservative” posture.  Rather than an invisible entity, Catholicism argues for a visible rather than an invisible organization with a clear head and governing body.  (You can read more about that in my entry “What is the Church?“)

This brings us back to our question, which church was founded by Jesus Christ?  Do you know who founded your church?  Was it founded by Christ or by a man?  How far back does your faith lineage go?  In whom do you put your trust for your immortal soul – the guidance and interpretations of self-proclaimed fallible men – or those who have been told by Christ, “I will not let evil (the characters of which are lies, error, fallibility, and corruption) overcome you”?

Who founded your church

To me, if historical documents and lineage can verify the latter and one choses not to investigate and verify it and stay with the former then does that make a case for willful ignorance?  Especially if the former is chosen for the sake of comfort, personal tastes, or the church’s stance on issues which the believer already adheres to (in other words, you chose the church for these pre-believed ideas which you were not willing to forfeit).

There is only one Church in existence that makes the claim that they are founded by Jesus Christ Himself.  There is only one Church in all of existence that claims they are descended directly from the Apostles themselves.  One Church that claims by the power of the Holy Spirit that they are protected from error and are thus infallible when teaching or proclaiming matters of faith.

One.

I’m excluding certain Baptists claim and any other evangelical or non-denominational church’s claim that they were there from the beginning or “hidden”.  As Thomas Howard or Cardinal Gibbons says (and I’m paraphrasing), “Indeed!  You were so hidden that no trace or proof of your existence can be verified or found nor has any scrap of it ever been!”  I’m excluding those who take “by force” the titles given to predecessors and/or claim apostolic link.  I say “by force” because they cannot provide any clear lineage of succession and in this no valid Holy Orders exist.  As Tertullian said:

“But if there be any [heresies] which are bold enough to plant [their origin] in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [their first] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter” The Prescription of Heretics, 200 AD.

I’m also excluding those who are staunchly anti-Catholic since they are simply decidedly dead set against any claim of Catholicism and will stubbornly deny, even in the face of bald-faced facts, that such validity exists at all in the Church or her claims and therefore the aforementioned claims speak not of authority but confirm madness.  There’s no point in arguing with such people and no point in wasting time proving the truth.

However, those that do acknowledge at least some form of validity in the Catholic faith have to, I think, examine these claims seriously.  Examine the claims and history of their own faith tradition, especially in light of the entire scope of Christian history which predates their own sect’s foundation.  For if Christian history cannot be trusted, or is suspect to corruption, then what faith can one have that they are truly on the right path at all?  Simply put, mankind armed with only their Bibles and their willpower have not been able to either validate a common truth we could all agree on nor could they arrive at a unity prayed for in Our Saviors last hours.

As the week of Prayers for Christian Unity proceeds, even though the path to that unity seems more fragmented by the passage of time, I pray that understanding and a willingness to follow wherever the truth leads will at least bring us closer to that goal.

The Pope, Kirk, and Atheists

October 2, 2013

Let me try to consolidate some research and information for people so that they don’t have to scour the internet forever to find all this information out.  For those that are looking, many now want to know if Kirk Cameron is, in fact, an anti-Catholic because he re-posted the information about Pope Francis’ statement on atheists which claimed that Pope Francis was saying ‘man can save himself’.

Catholics seem to be blissfully unaware that yes, in fact, Kirk Cameron and his mentor Ray Comfort are actively anti-Catholic.  The duo have made very clear statements in the past that they are anti-Catholic enough to hold the very clear viewpoint that Catholics are not even Christians.  Catholics are in a separate category to them.  Take a look at a previous blog entry I posted where I show their stance against Catholicism.

So what DID the Pope say about atheists getting into Heaven?  You can read the entire message unedited from the Pope here.  You can also read an excellent breakdown of what exactly the Pope was saying with a question and answer breakdown to help clarify what he said in accordance with Catholic teaching from Jimmy Akin here.

Included in that piece is the excerpt from what the Pope said about those who do not believe in God:

First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith.

Given that—and this is fundamental—God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience.

In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil.

The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.

You have to believe in God to ask mercy of Him and those that don’t believe follow their own conscience and decide for themselves about what is good or evil.

So how did Kirk Cameron get involved in all of this?  This goes back about three steps and demonstrates how misinformation spreads like wildfire online.  Kirk re-posted an excerpt of an article from an evangelical entitled “The Pope Declares Man Can Save Himself” in which the author, Jay Younts wrote his article based on an inaccurate and misleading piece done in the UK the Independent where they claim in their headline that the Pope said, “you don’t have to believe in God to go to Heaven.”  

The chain of events is follows, The Pope wrote a letter to La Repubblica.  The Independent misquoted the Pope and claimed he said something he never did.  Jay Younts read the Independent and wrote his own article claiming the Pope said man can save himself, which is even farther off the mark.  Kirk re-posted part of it on his own website calling it “a great article” with a link.  This is how it got twisted and went viral and this is why Kirk’s bias and willing ignorance of Catholicism has placed him against our Holy Father.

I’m not sure why atheists would care about getting to a Heaven they don’t believe in or why the secular world seems so comforted by the false notion that our Holy Father appears to be softening the Church’s position on their final state at death.  Perhaps because it is uncomfortable at the idea of condemnation and judgment for its actions.

The Church’s teachings are clearly explained by Thomas Rosica’s in his blog.¹  He states in part:

God truly and effectively wills all people to be saved. Catholics believe that it is only in Jesus Christ that this salvation is conferred, and through Christianity and the one Church that it must be mediated to all people.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, part of which he quotes in his blog, also states:

171. What is the meaning of the affirmation “Outside the Church there is no salvation”?

This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.

Do not let yourselves be troubled by secular media trying to tell you what your Pope said to the people of God.  Remember the world’s reaction to your faith ranges from indifferent to hostile, therefore you shouldn’t let yourselves be swayed by their rendition of your faith or their empty hopes in conformity.  I’m not saying you have to ignore all secular media forever no matter what and only get your information from one source or another that fits your viewpoint.  Otherwise, you’re living in a vacuum and creating a limited world for yourself based on limited understanding.  I’m encouraging you to study your faith and when something like this comes up, go to your Church documents and read what they say for yourself.  Particularly the CCC, then Second Vatican II documents.  Afterward, go to the source, the Pope’s transcript, or letter and read it for yourself.  Don’t take the word of an indifferent to hostile world telling you what your Pope said.  Read it for yourself and by understanding your faith in light of what he’s saying, you understand that what he’s saying is not contrary to the faith handed down from the Apostle’s themselves.

Remember what St. Paul said, “but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.  Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.  For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel.  For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:7-12

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1. He also includes excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church #135, 152, 162, 166, & 171.

Catholic “Inventions”: Confession

July 31, 2013

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the biggest problems non-Catholics have with the Catholic faith.  The entire concept was something shrugged off by Protestants as an unnecessary complication and burden imposed on an unlearned public by an overbearing and power hungry church to keep the masses under their thumbs and in their pockets.  It is summarized today by the very question,

“Why should I confess my sins to a priest when I can go directly to God?”

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,”
– 1 Timothy 2:5

Even more than a few Catholics consider the idea of going to Confession to be an unnecessary formality.  Persuaded by the above argument and without the benefit of proper catechesis that has sorely lagged in the Catholic Church for the past thirty years, Catholics were never given the proper understanding of what Confession means and why it is an indispensable Sacrament to Christianity.  The above question and correlating verse deserve to be addressed and for those who’ve never legitimately grasped the necessity it is a bewildering formality of archaic functionality.  This is especially true in the Christian understanding of today where simplification is the ultimate expression of faith.  ‘If it works, why complicate it?’  I believe that especially after the scandals caused by misrepresenting and corrupt religious (not the Church proper, as can be historically proven, by her ill-meaning representatives) that spurred that Protestant Reformation, people are distrustful of the Church and her rites and rituals and are more willing to believe the accusations against them rather than research the truth.  In fact, the challenge issued by Benedict XVI when he was Pope is that if one could study Catholic sources and doctrine and still come away with the conscience belief that it was an unworthy form of Christianity, they would be justified in their conscience and before God.  Therefore, we have to be willing to address the challenges to its rites and rituals and, to those willing to listen and understand, clarify her positions and beliefs.

So why, truly, is it necessary to go vocalize your sins to a priest instead of to God directly?  Isn’t that an unnecessary and humiliating exercise?  As with all matters of faith and addressing the things that go on today in a Catholic church, we need to go back to the origin of these practices in order to understand their founding.  While I usually start with the Bible as the primary source, since Protestants take it as the first and only source, I’d actually prefer to start with something that was written roughly around the same time the Apostle John wrote Revelation.  The Didache is an ancient written text (70AD – 100AD) properly titled The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles.  It expounds much more clearly on ancient Church procedure than the Bible does and was written around the same time the letters of the Bible were.  Also since the Bible wasn’t compiled into a canonized book until almost 300 years later, this is a conclusive document to begin with in examining the protocol of the early church.

“Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life.”
“On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.”
– Didache 4:14, 14:1

In the early practice of the Church, the penitents would confess their sins openly and be given a very long and strict penance.  As the Church grew in size and understanding this practice was relegated to a private confession whereby the priest acted as the hearer and assigned a much less strict penance.  Again, keep in mind that this was an established practice during the lifetime of the Apostle John and nothing in the entire library of extant Christian history refutes these practices.

So where did these supposed practices come into play?  It’s fine and dandy that they existed but where is the DIVINE sanction that this was even legitimate!?  This is where the pressing Protestant will demand validation for the claim that the practice is not superfluous.  Jesus Himself was the Divine Source for the institution of the Church and her Sacraments.  He instituted this Sacrament with his Apostles after His Resurrection when he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23)  This is an authoritative responsibility given to those who are charged with the ministry to “go and preach the Gospel in [His] name.”  They are the leaders of this new faith and are thus given spiritual authority over the adherents.  How is this so?  Because the Scripture says Jesus “breathed on them.”  Only one other time in the entire Bible does it directly say that God breathed on creation.  Genesis 2:7 where God’s breath gave Adam life.  It is also reminiscent of Ezekiel 37:9,10 where the breath of the Lord, as commanded through his prophet, gave life to the dry bones and made them live.  The direct breath of God on something in the Bible gives it life and these Apostles are given new spiritual life through Jesus at this moment.

A similar verse of bestowing authority to the Apostles is found in Matthew 16:19 where Jesus gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and tells him, “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”  (This handing of the keys is a typography of the Kingdom of David as written in the Old Testament where the King would give the keys of his kingdom to his head steward. Cf – Is. 22:20-22)  Jesus also bestows this authority to the other Apostles in Matthew 18:18 when he’s teaching them and he says again, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

This is a spiritual authority given directly to the Apostles.  So what does it mean when it says that whatever they bind on earth is bound in Heaven and loose on earth is loosed in Heaven?  and don’t you think that that’s a distinct and powerful authority if, whatever you bind or loose on earth is also done in Heaven?
It means that whatever they allow or forbid churchwise on this earth is likewise approved and licit by Heaven.  Therefore, when Jesus reiterates this authoritative power by breathing on them after His Resurrection He states that their authority of binding and loosing is also for the bestowing of forgiveness of sins or the retention of holding those sins against the person.  This is given to the Apostles.  The representatives of Christ on earth.  This is what the Church calls, in persona Christi – in the person of Christ.  That is, the representation of Christ on earth.  They aren’t Christ, but his representative with the authority to bind and loose which includes the forgiveness or retention of forgiveness of sins.  Since Apostles can’t live forever on earth, they had to pass on this authority which has been handed on, in an unbroken succession, to this very day to the ministers of the Church i.e. – the Bishops and their representatives, the Priests.

Confession

Another Biblical example which refers to the forgiveness of sins is James 5:13-16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.”  In the context of the chapter we see that James is not simply speaking about any righteous person you happen to find to tell your sins to.  In context, James has been talking about the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick and is specifically referring to the duties of the presbyters (the priests) of the Church to anoint a sick person with oil and pray over him because that prayer of faith will “save the sick person (spiritually speaking) and the Lord will raise him up” and that if he has any sins they will be forgiven.  Then James says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be [spiritually] healed” because if a righteous person, i.e. – the presbyter [a priest] is praying over your sin, you will be healed/forgiven.

A priest does not and never has, in the history of the Church, had the power in, of, through or by himself the power to forgive a sin.  This power is from God and by God alone.  A man, by his own regret and desire to be forgiven can take it upon himself to ask God’s forgiveness outside of the Sacrament of Confession and be forgiven provided he is not aware, through the knowledge of his faith, that Confession is a required act.  In other words, if he’s never been taught in his faith that Confession was a requirement, he can still be forgiven of his sins.  A person is only held liable for what they know (cf. – Romans 2:12-29).  The Sacrament of Confession, like Baptism, is what is referred to as a “nominative necessity”.  In other words, it is a part of the act of participation in Christian Sacraments, but those acts, in and of themselves, are not strictly required in order for the desire or promise to be fulfilled.  For example, if a man in a state of mortal sin confesses to God his repentance and makes the resolve to go to Confession to be absolved, but dies before he is able to visit the Confessional, he can have the assurance that he has been forgiven.  Like Baptism, if a person desires to be Baptized into the Church and desires to be in communion with the Church through Baptism but dies before they can be properly Baptized, they are still considered, by the Baptism of desire, to have been Christian.  Desire and intention are the judging factors here, but even though the act of Confession and Baptism are ‘nominatively necessary’, they are still ‘necessary’ since desire alone cannot create reality.  The desire to perform the act of Confession and Baptism are necessary and the determination to perform those acts must be a part of the intentions of the believer in order to validate the desire of the individual.  The action is required because it was instituted as a requirement by Christ Himself.

For example, I steal some money from an acquaintance.  I may regret stealing it and I may even resolve in my heart that I want to be forgiven for the theft, but without asking for that forgiveness or resolving that I will ask for that forgiveness, I haven’t really accomplished anything to that effect.  There is also the two-fold side of Confession which states that asking for forgiveness is one thing, but that it cannot just be in your mind.  Using this scenario, you would need to ask it of the person whom you have wronged, but not only that, for Catholics the two-fold part is that you, as a transgressor, must make reparation for your sin by purging (purgation – Purgatory) the damage your sin has done to the wronged person and to your own soul.  That means, returning the money or somehow compensating for the loss of the money to this individual whom you have wounded and affected with your sin.

On a Church-wide level the injured party is the Church and Heaven itself, therefore one is asked to confess their wrongdoing to the representative of the entire Church and Heaven as a whole: the priest. Also, one is asked to repair the damage through a corollary action whether physical, if possible, or spiritual, which is always.  You must desire forgiveness, ask for forgiveness and receive it, and make reparation for it.  The priest essentially serves as a representative with the capacity of helping you repair your soul because of your sin.  As Christ commanded His Apostles, and thus their authoritative descendants to forgive sins, the priest acts as the authoritative representative of Christ on earth who has the power to forgive or retain the forgiveness of sins by evaluating the sinner’s contrition and by assigning an act of penance, which is almost always in the form of spiritual encouragement in order to heal the soul.  The penance is given in order to counsel the soul in its state of inequity and comfort the soul in its assurance that God loves and forgives them.  A Christian can and does go to God for forgiveness, but the authoritative representative of God can counsel, guide, comfort, and reassure the soul of this very thing.

confession 1

Another reason Christ knew what he was doing is that a human being, by his very nature is a physical creature and has an innate desire to interact with his surroundings.  Man is not a solitary, internal thing and neither is he, nor was he designed to be, in his faith.  Therefore, it is good for a man to verbally hear, “your sins are forgiven.”  Confession is, by its very nature, a consoling act.  Truth be told, everyone confesses.  Everyone.  Your confessor just may not happen to be a priest.  It’s either your friend, family member, the bartender, a stranger on an airplane ride, but man by his very nature has the need to confess his wrongdoings to someone and man always does.  In saying things to a Holy individual who will, by his Holy Orders never, ever reveal to anyone what you’ve said under pain of excommunication from the Church, is that he can give you the reassurance, by evaluating your contrition, that God does, in fact, forgive you.  Through the absolution granted by God’s Own representative one receives the Grace of the Sacrament and the ability to be free of the weight of that sin.  There is much more confidence in that than in simply kneeling by your bedside, praying to God for forgiveness and then standing up and going about the rest of your day.  There remains in this scenario, in the darkest recesses of man’s soul, a fervent uncertainty that he is, in fact, forgiven.

So what about what Paul says in 1 Timothy when he talks about there being one mediator between man and God which is Jesus?  Doesn’t that mean that there is no other ‘conduit’ to receive God’s Graces than through Jesus and that’s why we only pray ‘in Jesus name’?  If we isolate this verse from its surrounding content and utilize it in its most literal sense, then we should be, by those methods, literally only pray to Jesus Christ alone.  Don’t speak to God or ask the Holy Spirit anything.  Don’t ask your neighbors to pray for you because then you are not utilizing Christ in His role as sole mediator to God.  No one else should you be talking to but Jesus Christ Himself because the verse, in isolated form states explicitly that He alone is the sole mediator.  However, by isolating this verse we take the phrase out of context.  Let’s look at what Paul was saying right before this,

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men. For kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

“… who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth.”

and what is that knowledge of the truth? “[That] there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,”

and why is it important to say He is the one mediator? Because He “gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was born at the proper time.”

Therefore, what Paul is telling us in this verse is what Luke told us in Acts and that is that, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  There is no other path to Heaven than through the Sole Mediator, in other words the Individual who “gave himself as a ransom for all” because He was sent by the Father for the redemption of the world at the cost of His life.  “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)  In other words, the only way to obtain eternal life in Heaven is to believe in Jesus Christ and His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  Not through any other religious systems or beliefs can you get to Heaven.  This is what Paul is talking about in 1 Timothy 2:5, not about who to confide in or pray with.

Confession can be an overwhelming thing.  This is something I struggled with coming into the Catholic Church and I’ve written about it briefly before.  Something that comforted me was simply the patient explanation of my priest in the RCIA class and the understanding of what exactly Confession was and was not.  God wishes to bestow His Graces upon us and the way He chooses to do it is by cooperating with our human natures.  It is not an easy thing to step into a Confessional be it face-to-face or behind a screen to talk about the things you did wrong.  This is why, as I mentioned in the other blog entry, that I think it’s a ridiculous suggestion from non-Catholics to claim that it’s an easy thing to just go say you did something wrong to some priest and be forgiven of it because there’s nothing stopping you from going and doing it again once you’ve told him.  (As if Confession is akin to walking into a psychologist’s office and doing the same thing with the same implications.)  First, because it’s an invalid Confession if you’re not truly contrite.  God knows your heart and God is the One to whom you are asking forgiveness.  Second, no one is ever moved to go sit in front of any other individual without the buffer of an alcoholic beverage or a reasonably high assurance of their friendship and spill undisclosed secrets to them.

confession 3

My cousin once visited my church with me to attend the Stations of the Cross.  Him not being Catholic gave us the opportunity, when it was over to satisfy his curiosity, to take a peek inside the Confessional.  I explained where the priest sat and the option of the penitent to either kneel behind the screen or sit face-to-face with the priest.  I said, “you sit right here, look at the priest, and tell him your sins.”  My cousin’s reaction, “Oh nah-uh!  Nope!  No way!  I couldn’t do it.”
It’s not a “get-out-of-jail-free” card and it’s not easy, but doing it brings a nearly miraculous feeling of Grace upon you.    Penance is almost never what movies make it out to be: “Say three Our Fathers, two Hail Mary’s, and one Glory Be”.  Although, that can be the case it hasn’t been my common experience.  Rather, the priest, (at least the ones I’ve had the fortune to make my constant Confessors) will talk to you like a counselor.  They’ll help you to work through what was going on when you made the choice to sin and with Godly advice encourage you on how best to go forward from that sin.  They then usually ask you, for your “penance”, to go spend some time in prayer with God or to read a verse of the Bible which might encourage you to avoid that sin in the future.  That’s what Confession really is.  A Godly man who will not blab your secrets to the congregation who wants to help you and encourage you to move forward in a positive Godly way.

If you’re Protestant you can go to Confession, but cannot be absolved of your sins from a priest because, not being Catholic, you do not profess to believe in the authority of a priest to render absolution to you.  You are not in communion with the Catholic Church and, therefore, unless you wish to be in communion with the Church you can’t be absolved from sin by a priest.  If you’re a Catholic, I would encourage you to visit a parish church and find a priest you can feel confident in confessing your sins to so that you can return to the Sacrament of the Eucharist without being guilty of taking the bread or the wine unworthily. (cf – 1Cor. 11:27) 

“If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that is not a deadly sin, he has only to pray, and God will give life to this brother — provided that it is not a deadly sin. There is sin that leads to deathand I am not saying you must pray about that.  Every kind of wickedness is sin, but not all sin leads to death.
1 John 5:16,17

confession

Pope and Change – Understanding the Electoral Process and Dispelling Papal Myths

February 27, 2013

As fast as their scrutinizing little fingers can type it out, reporters and journalists all over the globe, Christian and non-Christian are covering every single facet of the events surrounding Pope Benedict XVI’s relinquishment of his position as Pope and the election of the next man to take office.  The secular media is living up to its reputation by attempting to deliver the most scurrilous angle to the events as possible including framing the church as being “amidst scandal”, “scandal ridden”, or hoping for the next leader to usher in a more “progressive” set of beliefs – as if the Pope functioned as a CEO of a business and could institute a new business formula and policy.  Extreme evangelicals ironically utilizing a verified fake prophecy are calling this the sign of the end times.  So what exactly IS going on now and how exactly does it work?  Hopefully, I can offer a guideline to some of the ideas circulating about it and straighten out some misconceptions.

What does Pope Benedict mean he’s “retiring”?  I thought a Pope was a Pope until he died?

“Retiring” is a bit of a misnomer of the word Pope Benedict used in his address to announce that he was stepping down.  The word as translated from Latin as “retiring” is not exactly what the Pope is going to do.   He is relinquishing the office of Pope (the word from Latin translates as “to hand back”) but will remain in the Vatican at a cloistered monastery to continue working to pray for our Church.  A Pope can announce a resignation from the office at any time, however most do continue in the Papacy until they pass away.  (See below for more information.)

What happens when the Pope steps down (or dies)?

When a Pope dies or, as in this case steps down, a group of Cardinals called a Papal Conclave will meet behind closed doors until they are able to elect a new Pope.  These men are secluded, like a deliberating jury, for the duration of their decision making until they are able to decide, by 2/3’s majority vote, who the next Pope should be.  The Seat of Peter, i.e. – the office of the Bishop of Rome, which is the Pope, is considered sede vacante (Latin: “the seat being vacant”; lit. “vacant seat”) until such time as the election of the next Pope.  (to learn more about exactly what goes into a Papal Conclave and what the white and black smoke means, take a look at this presentation.)  Incidentally, violating the Oath of Secrecy that all Cardinals of the Conclave take is punishable by excommunication.

So who’s in charge?

The short and concise answer is a College of Cardinals along with a few individuals such as the Camerlengo and others who oversee only the ordinary, normal running of the Vatican until a new Pope is elected.  They don’t have the power to change or ‘take charge of’ the Vatican. They function more in the sense that they’re overseeing routine running of the Vatican.  They’re not the “interim boss” with unlimited access to “power” as it were.

Who can become a Pope?

Technically any baptized Catholic male can become Pope.  Realistically a Cardinal is usually elected to the office of Pope.  If a man were elected who was not already a Bishop, then he would first be consecrated Bishop of Rome, then  elected Pope.  Upon his assent to the Papal office he is asked to choose a Papal name and then lead to the Room of Tears where he changes from his Cardinal (or priestly vestments) into the white Papal vestments.

When is the last time a Pope stepped down?

Around 600 years ago!  Resignations are uncommon in the papacy, but are not altogether an unheard of event.  The last resignation was Pope Gregory XII in 1415.  A short list of resigning popes is as follows:
Pope Benedict IX (1033-44) long caused scandal to the Church by his disorderly life, freely renounced the pontificate and took the habit of a monk. He repented of his abdication and seized the papal throne again for a short time after the death of Pope Clement II, but he finally died in a private station.
His immediate successor, Pope Gregory VI (1044-46) was elected but due to unseemly circumstances surrounding his election abdicated voluntarily.
Pope St. Celestine V (1294) had been a simple hermit, and his sudden elevation found him unprepared and unfit for his exalted position. After five months of pontificate, he issued a solemn decree in which he declared that it was permissible for the Pope to abdicate, and then made an equally solemn renunciation of the papacy into the hands of the cardinals.
Pope Gregory XII (1406-1415). It was at the time of the Great Schism of the West, when two pretenders to the Chair of Peter disputed Gregory’s right to the papacy.  To put an end to the strife, the legitimate Pope Gregory renounced the pontificate at the General Council of Constance in 1415.¹

Will Benedict still be called “Pope”, have a Papal funeral, etc.?

The voluntary abdication of the office of Pope having not happened in 600 years (older than Protestantism!) leaves a little uncertainty as to proper procedure in the matter of having a former Pope still living.  The current Pope will resign to a cloistered monastery in the Vatican.  Keeping with tradition, his Papal ring will be destroyed along with the lead seal of the pontificate.  This task falls to the cardinal camerlengo and his assistants.  It was just announced he will be given the title, “Pontiff emeritus” or “Pope emeritus”.  He will keep the name of “His Holiness, Benedict XVI” and will dress in a simple white cassock without the mozzetta (elbow-length cape).   Likewise, the Pope will no longer wear the red papal shoes or mantle.²  The type of funeral for Benedict XVI has not yet been determined.

The media is speculating that the next Pope will be more “progressive” and will open the doors to controversial topics such as “gay marriage”, “women priests”, “abortion and contraception” is this true?  Can a Pope change policy?

Media understanding of Catholic doctrine and procedure shows an overwhelming ignorance in their understanding of how exactly the Church works.  These matters have already been addressed by the governing body of the Church which is the Magisterium (teaching office).  That is the bishops along with the Pope guided by the Holy Spirit and limited in their scope and power by the revealed truth of Public Revelation (i.e. – the teaching of Scripture) and Tradition.  Remember, the Church cannot make new rules up because of current social trends.  Neither can it define “new doctrine”.  Nor can the Pope.  The Magisterium works a lot like the government of the United States in that the three branches of government, Judicial, Legislative, and Executive are setup in a system of checks and balances so that one cannot supersede its authority because of the other two.  The Catholic Church is the same way in regards to its Teaching Office, Tradition, and Scripture.  One cannot override, outweigh, or counteract the others, and, in fact, all exist and rely on each other intrinsically.

There are stories circulating about this next Pope being the last Pope and that it will signal the End Time.  Is this true and where does that come from?

Good stories die-hard!  Especially good fish tails like this one.  This is a topic that has been circulated everywhere from the genuinely curious to the secular media to evangelical “End Times” ministers.  Everyone is wondering about this prophecy.  This prophecy concerns the foretelling of the names of all the Popes and that at the end of time there will be this last Pope called “Peter the Roman” and that will signal the end of the world.  Accordingly, the list of Popes in this prophecy coincides with the exact number of Pope’s we’ve had so this means the world is almost at an end.
This information is derived from a writing called The Prophecies of St. Malachy.  St. Malachy is an obscure saint who lived in the 12th century.  The problem is these writings didn’t appear until around 1400 years later in 1598 claiming to be authentic writings of St. Malachy.  In it, the writing predicted which men were to be the next Pope in very obscure, highly enigmatic two or three word descriptions like, “Pastor and sailor”, “rapacious eagle”, or, for our current Pope, “Glory of the Olive”.  Endless parades of scholars have done acrobatics to make these phrases fit the Pontiffs to which they’re ascribed with limited success.  There is no original manuscript which can be traced back to the time of St. Malachy and the work has been widely denounced as fraudulent.  The Catholic Church has put no stock in the work and no self-respecting Christian should either.  Any conjecture formulated with this work as its basis is far from credible.

 When will the Conclave of Cardinals meet and when can we expect the new Pope?

Pope Benedict has just issued a motu proprio which allows for the Conclave to meet earlier than the normal fifteen day waiting period if all voting Cardinals are present, but must begin in twenty days even if they are not all present.  The Oath of Secrecy will include the two technicians who check to make sure no audio or video equipment is present in the conclave, and that the violation of the Oath of Secrecy will result in excommunication from the Church.

On a personal note, I have been entirely grateful to a Pontiff who has taken a more conservative stance on Church theology, and who has a truly pushed for Catholics to strengthen their faith and evangelize to the world.  This Pontiff has helped promote a return to more conservative Catholic worship appropriate to our faith and I hope and pray that continues to be the case in the future.  The man himself is an extremely brilliant theologian and I believe without a doubt that his works will long continue to be studied and utilized long after he’s gone to rest.  I was saddened to learn of his resignation as the mood felt akin to his passing, but I also recognized months before his announcement that he appeared frail and looked extremely tired.  I can only guess at the enormity of weight which weighs on a Pope.  I believe that the enormity of his admirable humility can be seen from the moment he became Pope and called himself a “servant in the vineyard of God” to the fact that instead of retiring and going home where I believe his heart most wishes to be, he is submitting himself to the will of God by staying in an active role within the Church by devoting his life to monastic prayer.

I heard on the radio something someone had left in a comment on a Facebook picture of Pope Benedict that said, “When he was elected, the world called him ‘God’s Rottweiler’, but for us he was our ‘German Shepherd.’  Pray for our Church, for the leaders, and for the next Pope that all that must be will be by God’s Will and the guidance of the Holy Spirit as it has been these two-thousand years in an unbroken succession from St. Peter.

Dominus tecum, Papa Benedictus XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

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1. Catholic Encyclopedia – http://www.newadvent.org
2.  http://www.news.va/en/news/benedict-xvi-will-be-pope-emeritus#sthash.U0iKNu3O.dpuf

Faith Trap

January 3, 2013

Faith can come in many forms and look as different as the individual who practices it.  It can be generally categorized along the lines of the sect of Christianity one follows.  Over the centuries the understanding of the dynamics of faith have changed quite dramatically as branches of Protestantism split repeatedly.  Ignoring the manifestations of faith which are aberrations of the standard of faith, such as Word Faith or Prosperity Gospel and condemned heresies like “Oneness Pentecostalism” (historically known as  Modalism, Monarchianism, or Sabellianism) there remains a somewhat varied approach to it.

In the Beginning

Usually the first glimpse of a sect’s approach to faith is seen in the manner in which individuals become a member of a certain church.  For evangelical churches or even those not necessarily associated with a known individual church, becoming a Christian period is simply a matter of saying what’s commonly called “The Sinner’s Prayer”.  It has no fixed form and since most evangelical leaning Christians eschew anything labeled formulaic¹, the prayer only contains general bullet points regarding the sinners confession of sin, helplessness without Christ, and a dedication to the Savior.  In general though the prayer goes something like this:

“Lord Jesus Christ,

I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life.  I ask your forgiveness and now turn from everything which I know is wrong. Thank you for dying on the cross for me to set me free from my sins.  Please come into my life and fill me with your Holy Spirit and be with me forever.

Thank you Lord Jesus, Amen.”²

However, even though it is not considered a formulaic incantation, most evangelicals consider a sincere soul as having been “saved” after this.  In many evangelical circles this is Assurance of Salvation, the loss of which is not thought possible.  Afterward, “… all you need to [do is] get into a bible-based church, and study God’s Word. Once you have found a church home, you will want to become water-baptized. By accepting Christ you are baptized in the spirit, but it is through water-baptism that you show your obedience to the Lord. Water baptism is a symbol of your salvation from the dead. You were dead but now you live, for the Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed you for a price! The price was His death on the cross. May God Bless You!”³

Slightly overwhelming as a new Christian, don’t you think?

Most of the time, though, one is already in attendance at a church and there is what is known as an “Altar Call” (This is bit of ironic vernacular since evangelicals eschew the concept of an altar in the church) where the entire church is invited to bow their heads and “ask Jesus into their hearts” then the individual can come forward to the front of the church in front of God and everybody while they’re singing a hymn to speak with the pastor and afterward it is announced that the individual has prayed this prayer and accepted Jesus and afterward they go through a symbolic Baptism.

For mainline Protestants this is a much more private matter.  They do not have altar calls and it is up to the individual to decide to follow Jesus for themselves.  They would refer to the act of committing one’s life to Jesus as “following Jesus” or some such similar nomenclature but usually they do not follow the vernacular of referring to the act as “being saved”.  There isn’t a concept of Assurance of Salvation with mainline Protestants therefore the Sinners Prayer isn’t really utilized or used in any matter unless an individual prays privately to God declaring themselves a believer and a follower, but most don’t really have a formulaic expression for the decision to become a Christian.  In addition to this, children are normally Baptized at birth in theses churches, and for much different reasons than adult Baptism in evangelical churches, but an individual coming into these churches can also speak with the pastor and then be Baptized as an adult.

For Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics if one decides to become a member of one of these communities they usually first take classes which teach people about the intricacies of the faith.  For Lutherans it’s called a catechism class.  For Anglicans, if you’ve already received the Sacrament of Confirmation in a Roman Catholic Church or an Orthodox Church you don’t need to do much of anything except be received by an Anglican bishop although they do have inquirers courses for those interested in reception or Anglican confirmation.  For Catholics there is a program called Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) which typically lasts for around nine months, but interested individuals can go at their own pace and go through the process for as long as it takes.  On average the longer participants will remain in RCIA classes for a couple of years or so.

These classes for these faiths are done because there is much incorporated in the faith of these three traditions and it is vital that one understand what they teach.  They are also distinct in their beliefs therefore other individuals who have not been a part of them need to understand that there is much more involved in being a part of these traditions than there is, say, at a storefront church started five years ago.  These are formal – sometimes called “high church” – traditions and they’re steeped in deep historical elements of faith.  Therefore, instruction is normally necessary for someone who wishes to join them.

On a personal note, I believe it would be most helpful, no matter what your faith tradition, to offer newcomers classes on exactly what the specific faith community believes.  While I do think that Christ can move on the heart of any individual affected by an emotional plea for Salvation, or a particularly well delivered sermon, what is long lasting is an individual’s understanding of what exactly they’ve become a part of.  Simply telling an individual, “Okay, now you’re saved.  Get a Bible, start going to Church, and good luck with that” does not inspire confidence in a long term commitment in new found believers faith.  As a wonderful priest I once had commented, “Those easily saved are not saved for long.”

Plumbing the Depths

In a short five hundred years man has taken enormous leaps in changing the essential face of Christianity.  Following the main branches of Christianity we see it slowly becoming far less complex as man steadily reduced the essentials of faith to the least common denominator.  The innate desire in men to create ease and accessibility for all things produced a continual decision to make faith obtainable to all people by reducing the amount of essential factors necessary to the bare minimum in order to obtain the greatest number of converts as possible.   This served two purposes: to comfort the individual’s soul with some sort of assurance that their efforts produce fruit without straining the individual conscience while simultaneously reducing the amount of effort necessary to conform to an idea.  Today the concept of “stay in your own world, we’ll bring Christianity to you” produces a rampant slew of niche branded Christian products (including the very Word of God) designed to create faith in an individual while at the same time conforming to the worldly trends to which an individual relates.  The whole concept is derived from a philosophy of conforming the presentation of the message to preferential tastes thus creating relatability and thereby producing converts.  The individual no longer is required to conform to the Good News of Truth in all its intricacies and nuances, the message of faith now conforms to the individuals comfort level and understanding.

Let me make clear here that there are a great number of people who do not have the mental and spiritual capabilities to hurdle through multi-layered theological concepts.  There are individuals whose very nature prevents their reasoning of faith on a level that continues beyond the basic measure of faith.  I am not referring to mentally challenged or handicapped individuals.  I mean very specifically, without malice, people who, by their very make-up, are just simple people.  Simple thinking, simple understanding, simple concepts.  I do not believe that those for whom the Gospel is believed in its most basic form are excluded from Salvation simply because they cannot do mental gymnastics through theology.
HOWEVER most people can, if they applied themselves, take to understanding faith beyond the measure with which they first obtained understanding of it, but since they’ve been taught “stay where you are” or more importantly, “this is all that you need in order to be ‘saved'” most people do not choose to venture beyond the basic structures of faith and understanding and remain in a simple mindset about Christian doctrines and faith.  There are individuals who will say outright that they have no desire to deepen their understanding of doctrine, theology, faith, etc. and that they’re perfectly resolved to maintain a simple idea because deepening it requires too much effort.  Ultimately, God judges the heart and those who loved him with all their “heart, soul, strength, and understanding”4 will be afforded the same measure of grace and reward as anyone else.  The indispensable word contained in this is “understanding”.  Most can understand so much more, but many willingly choose not to utilize their strength to do so.

This is merely a surface level idea of the kind of transformation Christianity has seen in the last five hundred years.  The real concept of changing the essentials of faith have to do with the actual approach to faith (as discussed in the last section), but more importantly what that garners the individual, what is required of that individual as a Christian, and how much the individual is required to believe about faith and understand about it.  Major conceptual doctrines have been changed over the last centuries which were done so because the concept was too difficult to grasp with the human mind such as transubstantiation (the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ although the elements are unchanged) water containing the power to wash away sins as in Baptism, or simplifying the approach to faith that seemed most elementary because the concept seemed to make more sense, like adult Baptism.  Ultimately, for the latter set of Protestants, it seemed to follow the mindset, ‘if it doesn’t make sense or we cannot grasp the full reason for it then there must be a simpler more direct explanation.”  Especially in the obtainment of Salvation.

“There has got to be an ‘easier’ way.”  Therefore, said Martin Luther, Salvation and Justification is obtained only through grace not by works because works didn’t make him feel any closer to God.  [This, incidentally, is why Martin Luther wanted to remove the book of James from the Bible because it contrasts this exact theological belief.5]
“There has to be some way we can know ‘absolutely’ that we’re going to be in Heaven with God” said the first evangelical theologians because not knowing with absolute assurance was terrorizing their conscience.  Therefore, they reasoned from a few passages of the Bible that we can understand Salvation to be absolute if we simply say we believe in Jesus and His death and resurrection from the dead and that He is the Son of God.
“Since there is no proof that there is any change in the bread and wine, there is no reason to believe that it actually does change into Christ.  This is too drastic an understanding of the text.  What Jesus meant is that it is symbolic.”  Therefore, the Eucharist became the Lord’s Supper from reality to symbolic.

Not only were these concepts revised, but the concepts of what embodies faith.  The real measure of faith is one’s understanding of the elements that comprise it.  Not just the Sacraments (or Ordinances as they’re called in most Protestant denominations) but the elements of faith which determine its make-up, what comprises it, what defines it, what its territory and boundaries are.  Although this is doctrinal theology in how its defined, it is also composed of how things are understood Biblically.  Therefore, while Sacraments are jettisoned or theology is abandoned, it is because those with some, a little, or no theological understanding took to interpreting Scripture for themselves (a claim born of the Protestant Reformation) and determined that if the “plain sense of understanding Scripture” could not be determined by themselves out of their own reasoning and intellectual ability, then it was not a necessary or plausible belief.  Therefore, many of the ancient Christian ideas were abandoned.  Not only Sacraments and the understanding of them, but beliefs like praying to those who are in Heaven, honor paid to those in Heaven with works of art (statues), Purgatory, merits, works, sacrifice, Salvation… If it was not in the plain text of Scripture in a way that was understood by the individual reader, then it was wrong and thus a new theology was born.

Revised for five centuries, Christianity became a concept that provided a simple answer and a simple Truth, devoid of complex concepts because those inhibited the believer from coming to know Christ and communing with God.  Regardless of the proof that lay in the very same scrutinized Scriptures, or even more what lay in the annals of history even as far back as the very beginning starting with the men who were taught by the Apostles themselves, men devised to preach a different Gospel than the one taught by the Apostles and determined that anything beyond the most straightforward explanation of faith was a stumbling block to God.  Since they obtained, through their own rendering of the Scriptures, these interpretations, then the only sure truth was that those who had come before had corrupted its message.  This was especially true with the Catholics since their beliefs were so completely removed from the “plain meaning of Scripture”.  Ultimately, Christianity and faith becomes not what they ought to be, but what we’d like it to be tailored to our own discerning tastes.  It’s depth becomes relevant to the depth of understanding the founder(s) of the denomination or church holds in regard to theology.

Apex of Crisis

No one person on earth can claim to have an absolute understanding of every single element of faith.  Nor can many even comparably explain certain elements of it.  There is something to be said for depth of theology and a more thorough understanding of the components of it which lend itself to a deeper sense of peace, love, and faith when they’re utilized in Christianity rather than excluded from it.  Can a Christian have a meaningful relationship with God on the basis of ‘Assurance of Salvation’, ‘literal interpretation of the Bible’, or the “all you need is Jesus” approach?  Of course!  Millions of Americans live and die on this path to Heaven.  The question really lies in, ‘Does the simple approach to faith have the ability to sustain one in a sufficient and spiritually meaningful way in difficult to answer times of life?’ or ‘Does the simplicity of faith lend itself to shallow explanations and answers that do not address a practical human existence or answer, in a logical approach,  problems?’  Do its explanations lend themselves to surface band-aid treatments to deep wounds or profound questions?

Let us take, for example, the lost art of conversation.  The topic turns to something straightforward such as the quality of the food.  You ask, “What did you think of the steak and potatoes?”  One person answers, “It’s real good.  You know.  Tasty.  Good flavor.”  The other says, “I thought the steak had a rare quality of preparation to it that hinted at a fine marinade which seems to suggest hints of pineapple.  It retained a lot of it’s juiciness and it’s quality was impeccable.”  Which answer feeds your mind better?  Which answer inclines you to ask more questions or engage the speaker in further conversation?  Who seems to know more about what they’re talking about?  Some individuals are intimidated by this eloquent response and will immediately clam up and mutter something like, “mm hmm”.  This explanation exceeds their understanding and this explanation exceeds their ability to comprehensively respond.  However, in some occasions the opportunity is provided for the questioner to have the explanations broken down in a meaningful way which allows them both to digest what the person answering has said and to comprehend it on a level which they can analyze it and provide their own feedback.  Therefore, the more one engages themselves in difficult conversations of this type, the more one comes to understand them.

The same goes for faith.

Look at what the author of Hebrews says.  They write, “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.
Everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.  Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…” Hebrews 5:1,2,13,14;6:1

For a believer continuing to live on milk, or the basic principles of faith without advancing into a fuller concept of faith, they remain unskilled in righteousness and are called children in matters of faith.  Feed on milk alone and all you are is a child.  Subsisting on a “milk-based” faith is truly to look at it with the understanding of a child to a subject and if all you’re being fed and satisfied with is a “milk-based” faith then the apparent shallowness of subsisting on faith of that caliber should be obvious.  However, with conscientious enough study and understanding one can mature into deeply theological concepts which grow the believer and create a fuller sense of Christianity on the whole.  A measure of spiritual maturity is that it cannot be gained by simply revolving around the same level of circular study since knowing more of the same thing on the same level of understanding doesn’t necessarily grant theological maturity.  It doesn’t mean that unless one studies Greek, Hebrew, and Latin that one understands more.  There are many ministers who have studied those languages in a theological school and whose Christian faith requirements don’t extend much farther than an unschooled pastors.  It also doesn’t mean that one has to subject oneself to an onslaught of seemingly boring antiquated Christian writers or they’re absolutely worthless in their theological development.  Not at all!  What it does mean is that in order to leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, a Christian should endeavour to study their faith beyond what they’re simply taught in their denomination.  I would encourage any Christian to know Christian history first and foremost.  Study, at least in brief, some of the most prominent ancient Christian writers extant letters.  At the very least research why it is that your church teaches the things that it teaches, what things other churches teach and why or why not you agree or disagree with them.  There are a myriad of ‘little’ things you can do in order to deepen your spiritual understanding that are too numerous to list here.  Don’t be discouraged but as the verse says, with practice comes discernment and something that I believe stretches beyond just determining ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

Some might say their’s no need, however, the soul craves it as deeply as the stomach craves a good hardy meal rather than being fed junk food snacks.  The more one understands, the better they are sustained in their faith.  The stronger their understanding of what it is comprised of, the more capable they can be of not only providing an answer for it but finding them as well.  It allows for dispensing a wiser command of it’s components while avoiding trite cliches and empty sounding solutions.  Ultimately, for a soul craving solid food which is an understanding of righteousness, milk won’t sustain them.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

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1. Earlier this year the Southern Baptist Convention debated whether or not to continue to endorse the “Sinner’s Prayer” with some saying it had characteristics of an “incantation that results in salvation”. Christianity Today, Southern Baptists Debate Sinners Prayer, Ted Olson / Christian Post, Sinner’s Prayer Can Lead to Salvation, Say Southern Baptist Traditionalists, Katherine T. Phan

2. From Billy Graham’s website in the section Peace With God which walks viewers through a slick four page persuasion for Christ with choice buttons at the bottom “Pray Now”, “I’ve Got A Question”, “Next Step” until one gets to the end where this prayer is located with the choices “Yes, I prayed”, “No, I’ve still got questions.”

3. From Salvation Prayer website

4. Luke 10:27

5. James 2:17-26