Wednesday, December 10, 2014


The  Age of "Drama" in the Early Church (95 A.D. -- 600 A.D.)

       Since we will speak of a period in the church's life immediately after the apostles (called the "sub-apostolic" period), it might first be a good idea briefly to summarize the concept of "Apostle" before we plunge into the post-apostolic era. This will illuminate the difficulties the first bishops and martyrs experienced trying to figure out in untested circumstances how to step into the Apostles' shoes.  The Greek noun apostolos comes from the verb apostellein ("to send forth"). Note that Jesus himself is called an apostle (Heb 3:1: "Jesus the Apostle and high priest of our religion."). The immediate post-apostolic experience in the church might be thought of as reminiscent of the early United States government after the gigantic leaders Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton et. al. had passed away, leaving younger successors on their own in running the country.  The number 12 for the apostolic ministry seems to echo the 12 tribes of Israel, which the Twelve will judge (Mt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30).  The single greatest determinant for apostolic calling is the requirement that true apostles should first have been disciples who had personal experience with the living Christ.  Yet Paul, who had not been a disciple is accepted by the apostles who lived after the Resurrection, apparently because of his experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus and his obvious life in the Spirit as he evangelized in cities where he left functioning, new Christian communities behind him.

     Some scripture scholars doubt that Jesus himself named the Twelve "apostles."  But they do not doubt that Jesus himself chose the Twelve as those whom he "sent forth" to spread the gospel. There are somewhat mysterious figures named as apostles, namely, Barnabas (Acts 14:14), who seems to have shown up out of nowhere, and the utterly unknown figures Andronicus and Junias (Rom. 16:7, "well-known apostles" who served before Paul). The apostle's vocation is summed up as follows: He proclaims the risen Lord.  He is the bearer of Tradition.  He holds an office which pertains to the entire Church.  He appoints other officers, but not other apostles.  He is, in short, the basic constitutive element of the Church. It is obvious why such tasks and duties could not survive the Apostles on their respective deaths.  However, the apostolic office as the basic constitutive element of the Church could not end without the Church itself ending.  Hence the Church preserved apostolic power in other officers, and apostolic succession in the preaching within the Church's apostolic Tradition. 

       The first Bishop of Antioch (if the apostle Peter was not such person) was St. Ignatius of Antioch (35-107),  who called himself Theophoros ("bearer of God").  He was arrested and hauled off to Rome by ten Roman guards for martyrdom in the Colosseum.  Along the way from Antioch to Rome he both wrote letters to Christians in the cities he was carried through (or neighboring cities) and preached short sermons in seven cities, begging the congregations not to deprive him of martyrdom by intervening for him with pagan authorities. He carried forward authentic apostolic teaching by insisting on both the divinity and humanity of Jesus.  He also stressed that the life of Christ is carried forward in the Eucharist, which he called "the bread that is the flesh of Christ; this flesh which has suffered for our sins."  It was Ignatius, in the year 105, who gave the new Church its full name -- namely, the Catholic Church.  He emphasized that a key element of the Catholic Church was its preservation of Christian unity in the Empire. He preached that the safeguard of this unity was the office and person of the bishop. He proclaimed that the bishop was "as the Lord," and stressed that without a local church's submission to its bishop neither the Eucharist nor marriage could be celebrated.

       It would be true to say that the life of early Catholicism was a dramatic age, both for the surviving Apostles and after the twelve Apostles had all died.  By "drama" we mean that the life of the church was both electrifying and nerve-shattering, with early Christians constantly facing overwhelming, overpowering attacks by Roman authorities and ordinary Roman citizens. It was in the face of this force of destruction that motivated Christians in Rome to create secret catacombs as temporary hiding places, and as burial chambers for those martyred. This age of drama, as far as the church was concerned, was that non-Christian society, or the clear majority of the population, had become a serious problem for the church, beginning especially with the third pope after St. Peter, namely, St. Clement of Rome.
(First there was St. Peter, then Linus, then Cletus, then Clement, who was bishop of Rome from 80-101 A.D.). During Clement's tenure, beginning especially around 95 A.D., the church -- aside from trying to spread the gospel in the face of hideous persecutions by the Romans -- became involved in internal confrontations (i.e.,quarrels within the church) about all sorts of things that had never occupied the thoughts or actions of the twelve Apostles or of St. Paul and other early letter writers. The reason for the initial threat to the newly spreading church, insofar as its original place in Roman imperial society was viewed, could be traced to the fact that the authors of the New Testament had not intended their writings to be academic philosophy or scientific history. Yet, the ruling, elitist Roman citizenry were by and large raised and educated in an intellectualist and philosophical way of thinking and living.  Further, the powerful sense of historical authenticity acquired by the  Romans during the roughly 700 years of their existence meant that the majority of Roman citizens conducted themselves toward members of the upstart, parvenu church with murderous persecutions as well as with derisive insults and slandering of Christians and their religious practices. The average Roman citizen regarded Christian believers as if they were on the cultural level of what we might today call "carnival performers." Worse still, Christians were routinely designated as "cannibals," because of their emphasis on the Eucharist as the center of their worship and doctrine
       The church's bare survival in the face of this uttermost rejection by Rome's state-sanctioned and civilian abuse often created at times and in various places a great risk for Christians simply to become known publicly for their faith. This generality held true until Constantine became Emperor in 312 A.D. (more about him below). The post-apostolic bishops' developing dilemma during the first three centuries of the church's life without the Apostles' hands-on leadership produced what was a threatening, risky lifestyle for Christians, characterized by the dread and anxiety of arrest, torture and death. Christians' day-to-day existence among the majority Roman population was threatened by militant antagonism. The one saving grace of this period for Christians was that they struggled heroically -- to their deaths if need be -- to have their world-view accepted as the only valid one. Frequent martyrdom strengthened the faith of all Christians.  Martyrdom of course called forth faith from those about to be murdered, and word of the death of a Christian hastened to intensify a struggle between faith and fear for those still living. Yet, Christians nonetheless preached and practiced the singular validity of their faith.  The opportunity to do this presented itself when a small minority of Roman scholars began to write favorably on Christian practice and doctrine.  These Christian scholars began to compete with Roman scholars on their own intellectual level.

     Slowly and eventually Christians' life in this pagan Roman society -- little by little -- attracted Roman citizens to the church.  A principal reason for this was that Roman scholars and intellectuals had to confess that they were bored and cynical, sick and tired of the emptiness that pagan culture produced. They started to take a deeper look at Christianity.  With this development Christianity took on a bit of an academic air -- something which pacified many of the Church's enemies. Christian scholars came forth from Roman academia and began to write treatises in opposition to traditional Roman thinking -- treatises that were every bit as profound and erudite as the writings of the best Roman thinkers. Abstract, speculative Roman philosophy might have fed the minds of the Roman intellectuals, but this philosophy increasingly lost its hold on the intellectuals' souls. The growing prestige of the writings of Christian philosophers and intellectuals, incorporating truths of the gospel, caused a growing number of Roman scholars to succumb to the numbness created by the sterile demeanor of Roman philosophy. This was true especially as the Roman scholars began to look closely at their own life of sexual immorality and at the overwhelming corruption on the part of their leaders.

         Who were the actors in the drama of the early church?  First, strong political leaders, which in the days of the early church meant the Roman Emperors, some of whom, like Emperor Gallienus (260-268), toned down persecution of Christians, while yet others, such as Diocletian (284-305) increased it vigorously. 
Second, various Christian philosophers and theologians, some of whom were laymen and others priests or bishops, wrote and circulated treatises or letters among an increasing network of local churches summarizing how they thought particular Christian doctrines should be defined. Third, the early post-apostolic church was home to heretics, who themselves were sometimes priests and bishops. Heresy, was the formal denial or doubt by heretics of any defined doctrine of the Catholic faith. Their opponents in church offices believed the heretics cleverly discredited significant positions taken in the New Testament by apostolic writers such as the four Gospel writers, St. Paul and other scriptural letter writers. Arguments between Christian and pagan scholars, or arguments among Christian scholars, tended to become vitriolic and acrimonious,  
      As just one example of the hostility flowing back and forth from one disputing proponent of certain Christian beliefs to another, take the example of St. Jerome.  The faults of Jerome's character and temperament were many and obvious.  He was a great scholar and saint, however, not because of his tempestuous irascibility, his bitter sarcasm and self-conscious arrogance, but in spite of these things.  He tried to have himself appointed as the successor bishop of Rome, but became enraged when he was passed over by the Christians of Rome. He left the city for good for Bethlehem, where he began to translate the Bible into Latin.
However, when he quarreled with other Christian scholars he could write vitriolic letters to his opponents. One example is a letter he wrote to an opposing scholar named Rufinus, starting his letter with the cheerful salutation, "To Rufinus, not a man, but a dog that returns to its own vomit, Greetings."  Yet, no one thought Christians were free of sins and faults, especially when intellectuals like Jerome, despite his peppery disposition, nonetheless greatly advanced the cause of the gospel.  After all, he gave us the Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible that lasted into the 20th Century. "Vulgate" meant commonpopularintended for the average literate believer.  Had Jerome not spent most of his time on biblical scholarship, it is doubtful that entire generations of Christians would ever have had any contact with the pages of Scripture.  The Holy Spirit used Jerome in spite of the fault lines in his personality.

     When persecutions lessened after the reign of Diocletian, arguments between Christian intellectuals gradually increased. This was because with decreasing arrests and persecutions toward the year 300, Christian scholars grew stronger in publishing their writings with their names attached. In this atmosphere reciprocal heretical writings (disagreements among Christians over core Christian doctrines) at times became a central element of drama in the early church. Those leaders of the church who disputed with heretics tried to find some way to summarize in depth and detail the errors of the heretics, and turned to letter-writing to do so. Their letters often took on the character of something that came to be called "Rules of Faith," or Creeds, that is, summaries of doctrine attempting to settle conflicts between authentic Christian scholars and leaders and those who were found to be confirmed heretics. However, the problem with attempting to put Creeds into letters was that letters did not reach a wide enough audience to squelch heretical teaching throughout the entire world of the early church -- as we shall see in more detail shortly. For the moment, let us give an example of an early creedal statement by quoting from Pope Clement's "Letter to the Corinthians," in which, Clement, writing roughly around the years 96-98 A.D. corrected misbehavior among members of the church in Corinth and then closed with a mini-Creed setting forth a doctrinal summary:
 The Apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent from God.  Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ.  Both of these orderly arrangements, then, are by God's will.  Receiving their instructions and being full of confidence on account of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and confirmed in faith by the word of God, they went forth in the complete assurance of the Holy Spirit, preaching the good news that the Kingdom of God is coming.
       This creedal "canon" (as numbered paragraphs in creeds were called) in Pope Clement's letter obviously instructed the Corinthians on an important point of authentic Christian doctrine.  However, his letter was something that was intended for, and kept by, only the Corinthians. There were a number of these creedal letters sent out among the early Christian communities by bishops and theologians, but it took a major and widespread heretical movement finally to inspire an "Ecumenical Council," that is a gathering of most bishops of the church speaking as a joint body of leaders who were able to take the Council's Creed back to their local churches.  In this way, more than just a small number of local churches were instructed on a vital matter of doctrine affecting all of Christendom. To enter into the deliberations of the first and perhaps greatest early ecumenical Ecumenical Council -- namely, The Council of Nicaea of 325 A.D. -- we must now turn to the influence on church doctrine inspired by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, whose mother was St. Helena. In 312 A.D. Constantine solidified his sole grip on the Empire after defeating his rival in the western part of the empire in a battle for sole control of the entire Roman Empire. Constantine achieved this sole control after having a vision of the "Labarum," an intersecting "X" and "P," or the first two letters of "Christ" as written in Greek (Chi and RhoXP, or in English, "ChR"). 
In his vision, Constantine also saw the Latin words, "In hoc signo vinces," meaning, "By this standard conquer."  Sure enough, Constantine, after being greatly swayed by the four words of his vision, defeated his rival and became sole emperor. From that moment on Christianity became the "favored" religion of the Empire, but not the "official" religion.  Emperor Theodosius I (379-395) in 378 created a Roman empire based on orthodox Christian doctrine as official state religion well after Constantine's death. Constantine knew nothing about the Christian gospel, although his mother continually tried to bring him to a lasting conversion and had much success, given Constantine's total ignorance of religion in general and Christianity in particular.  Constantine, having ousted his rival in the western empire, next decided to attack his rival in the eastern part of the Empire.  He was successful, and thus by 324 had joined together the two halves of the Empire under his domination. 

       As an all-important dictate for the first ecumenical council, later to be held in 325 in the important eastern city of Nicaea, Constantine decided to move his throne to the east, to the Greek city of Byzantium, which the emperor would  re-name after himself in the year 330 -- as "Constantinople."  Constantinople's name would be changed again much later, this time by the Moslems in 1453, who named the city Istanbul (as it still is today). An issue that would be vitally important for the future of church councils in the east -- which Constantine, and not bishops, presided over -- is this: Did Constantine ever actually convert to Christianity?  He was not another St. Paul, that is, he did not make a sudden life-changing acceptance of Jesus as Lord. He was a pagan through and through, and it took him twenty-five years after his military victory in 312 for him to come to a true understanding of the gospel.  Hence, in the year of his death, 337, he was baptized as a truly believing Christian.  During the quarter century leading him to his baptism there is no doubt that the emperor had become a sincere Christian.  However, before his baptism, he saw himself as the leader of the bishops who met at Nicaea to resolve the Arian heresy (as we will get to beginning in the next paragraph).  At Nicaea he announced vociferously that he was "a bishop of God," and this announcement, to his mind, meant he was a greater bishop then the ecclesiastical bishops attending and debating at the Council of Nicaea.

     It was a tricky matter for the bishops at Nicaea to put up with Constantine's imperious running of the Council.  The bishops would have been crazy had they appointed someone like Jerome to chastise the emperor for being no "bishop of God" but an outright phony. Instead it fell to the true leader of the Council, St. Athanasius (296-373), to discuss with Constantine in as humble and meek a way as possible in order to persuade the emperor to let the true bishops run the Council instead of the "bishop of God."  Whatever Athanasius said to Constantine, and however much he had to bend over backwards to avoid offending him, Constantine was somehow persuaded by Athanasius not to control the decisions made by the bishops of the Council. Actually, Constantine didn't really recognize the doctrinal controversies under discussion by the bishops at the Council . The emperor saw the Council simply as a means of bringing political unity to his eastern empire and under his firm control. Thus he never interfered in doctrinal discussions, which for him were literally written in a foreign language (Greek, instead of Constantine's mother tongue of Latin). In the eventual Nicene Creed, the bishops apparently kowtowed to Constantine by "congratulating him" on the scholarly gloss he put on the Creed. The emperor of course believed this apple-polishing foolishness, as he had literally nothing to do personally with the language of the Creed. Yet, as the "bishop of God," he apparently felt that God had led him to come to some sort of acceptance of the wording -- a very fortunate result for the church.  It is still fortunate for the church today. Through the centuries, the church has not had to call the Nicene Creed the "Creed of the Bishop of God."  Incidentally, there were probably 318 eastern bishops in attendance at the Council, but only 5 western bishops. The reason for this was twofold ; (1) It was dangerous travelling from the Latin west to the Greek east because by this time barbarians from northern Europe threatened the principal roads formerly controlled by Rome running from the west to the east.  (2)  While Pope Sylvester I (314-335) in Rome had a hazy idea of Arianism and was opposed to it, the heresy did not penetrate the Latin church in the west as it did the Greek church in the east.

       Therefore, the Council of Nicaea eliminated, for the time being a spreading and powerful heresy namely, the heresy ofArianism. Let us look now at the priest, Arius (250-336), and "his" heresy, as named after him.  Arianism inflicted on Christian dogma as held by the eastern bishops a heavy burden, as he gained many Christian followers, including bishops and priests. Arius was born probably in Libya. He was ordained a deacon of the Diocese of Alexandria, Egypt, by St. Peter, bishop of Alexandria (300-312).  However, Bishop St. Peter later excommunicated Arius for his membership in a schismatic and heretical group named the Melitians. Upon the death of Bishop St. Peter, he was succeeded by Bishop Achillas of Alexandria (312-13), who ordained Arius a priest of the Diocese of Alexandria and then made Arius pastor of Baucalis, a principal church of the diocese.  Arius was a gifted preacher (as is useful for a heretic) and also an ascetic, prompting many Christians to hold up his fasting and sacrifices as proof that his doctrinal views must be accurate. Under the next bishop, Bishop St. Alexander of Alexandria (313- 328), Arius openly championed the heresy of Subordinationism. 
This heresy taught either (1) that the Son is subordinate to the Father -- or (2) that the Holy Ghost is subordinate to both Father and Son.  Arius, and his followers who accepted Subordinationism, did so, they said, because they considered that the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity compromised monotheism.  The heretics believed that their position was backed up by Scripture, namely Jn.14:28 ("You heard me say to you, 'I go away, and I will come to you.'  If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.'")  Arius made many converts to his position, but he was excommunicated by Bishop St. Alexander of Alexandria in 321. Bishop St. Alexander decided to communicate what he had done to the leading theologian of the west, Bishop Hosius of Cordova (257-357), who acted as Emperor Constantine's ecclesiastical advisor. 

       Constantine ordered Hosius to Alexandria to investigate the controversy between Arius and  Bishop St. Alexander. Based on Hosius' report to Emperor Constantine, the emperor summoned the Council of Nicaea in 325, and it is thought by some historians  that the emperor appointed Hosius to preside over the Council. This may have been true, but it was obvious that one western bishop, Hosius, could not sway the large number of eastern bishops in attendance to any particular theological conclusion, even if he understood their argumentation in Greek. Five years before the Council had convened, that is, in 320, Arius had written a snide and contemptuous letter to Bishop St. Alexander explaining his (Arius') conception of the Trinity and arguing for the bishop's acceptance of this conception. Arius' Trinity was made up of a Monad and a Dyad.  The Monad is the Father, while the Dyad is composed of His two most glorious creatures, the Son, who is less than the Father, and the Holy Spirit, who is less than the Son.  Further progressions of Arius' heresy made matters worse throughout the Greek church.  These subsequent developments were recorded by the Church historian Sozomen as follows:

The Son of God was created out of non-being, there was a time when he did not exist, according to his will he was capable of evil as well as virtue, and he is a creature and created.  The Son who is tempted, suffers, and dies, however exalted he may be, is not equal to the immutable Father beyond pain and death; if he is other than the Father, he is inferior. Before the Son was begotten or created or ordained or established, he did not exist.  If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence; hence it is clear that there was when he was not.  It follows of necessity that he had his existence from the non-existent.
       The bishops at the Council of Nicaea responded to Arius' heresy by attempting to produce a document, based in Scripture, that would declare without reservation, without exception, that the Son is not a creature.  But, as we all know,biblical texts are subject to multiple interpretations, and the Arian supporters were certainly not lacking in skill to present theirs. The problem for the anti-Arian bishops at Nicaea was that the Bible nowhere says "The Son of God is one in
being with the Father, and he was not created in time, but eternally begotten."  St. Athanasius, only a deacon at the Council -- later bishop of Alexandria -- argued for a Creed that clarifies what the Bible says about the Son's relationship to the Father. There were three Greek definitions considered by the bishops to produce the Creed which St. Athanasius championed: (1) They could have said the Son was homoiousious, or of like substance [or reality] with the Father, (2) that the Son washomoios, or like the Father, or finally, (3) that the Son was homoousios, of the same substance [or reality] with the Father. In the end the bishops followed St. Athanasius' lead and chose the third alternative.

       The word homoousios, i.e.,of the same substance with the Father, is a philosophical concept that is not found in the Bible, but nowhere in the Bible is there a word which so precisely defines the core Christian doctrine of the Son's equal divinity to the Father.  This was a case where philosophy came to the assistance of revelation, with the Holy Spirit continuing to clarify Church doctrine well after the Gospels were written.

Conclusion:  How is the homoousios doctrine used in Catholic liturgy? Homoousios has received various translations over the years for the time during Mass when the faithful recite the Creed or the Profession of Faith.
Originally the homoousios doctrine was used literally, that is the faithful recited in the Creed at Mass that the "one Lord Jesus Christ" is "of the same substance as the Father."  Later, the homoousios doctrine was translated so that the "one Lord Jesus Christ" was said to be "one in being with" the Father. As of this writing, the homoousios doctrine is translated for the Profession of Faith at Mass so that the "one Lord Jesus Christ"  is said to be "consubstantial" with the Father.  However the Church's magisterium chooses to translate and use the homoousios doctrine, we can be assured that the faith and insight of those bishops at Nicaea in 325 A.D. heard the Holy Spirit speak to them correctly. Today it's "consubstantial" that is used for our English Profession of Faith in stating the relationship of God the Son to God the Father.  The important thing is to reflect on what we are saying in the recitation of the Creed at Mass. As for me, I'm "consubstantial," that is of the "same reality" with what the bishops who wrote the Creed of Nicaea -- long-tested, marvelously struggled over and faithfully passed down to me -- accomplishes.  Gratefully, and in adoration to the eternal Son of God who is of the same substance as His divine Father, let us close this discussion.
--Tony Gilles

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fundamentalism -- What Every Catholic Needs to Know

Fundamentalism is a psychological distortion of various fundamental truths based on narrow, overly literal, rigid and inflexible interpretation of such truths -- whether they are religious, political, scientific, intellectual or historical in nature. A fundamentalist interpretation of the written doctrines underlying and defining these truths focuses on a purely verbatim, word-for-word construction of surface expression rather than by embracing the comprehensive, underlying, broad and universal meaning intended to be given to these doctrines by those who originally composed them.

While this essay will concern itself with religious fundamentalism, the narrow, unimaginative interpretation given by fundamentalists to any theoretical, abstract framework of ideas has, over the centuries, tended to restrain the freedom of thought and expression of many noble-minded, honorable and virtuous systems of thought. For example there have been fundamentalist politicians, whether liberal or conservative, who distort the very ideology which they claim to promote. And the case of Galileo Galilei, whose forward-looking scientific discoveries suffered at the hands of Catholic Church officials, demonstrate both scientific and religious fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is a universal problem in all religions. Wherever die-hard and tenacious adherence to doctrine for its own sake exists, there exists a fundamentalist. This is so whether the fundamentalist is Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. Because fundamentalism is not really a doctrine in itself so much as a way of looking at doctrine, it is not possible to make a clean distinction between "us versus them" (i.e., non-fundamentalists versus fundamentalists). Yet, we are probably accurate to say we have seen an abundance of Muslim fundamentalists in our recent age, such as the Ayatollah Khomeini, religious ruler of Iran in the late-20th Century, who literally interpreted the Koran, shaping it to his own narrow viewpoint, all in the name of God, by preaching, for example, that Islam taught a thief's hand must be cut off (or even an alleged thief's hand). However, my thrust herein will be with "Protestant Fundamentalism," which I put into quotation marks because Protestants are by no means largely fundamentalists. Yet, because my focal point will be how fundamentalism mostly affects Catholics negatively, I will make an overly broad generalization by calling such anti-Catholic fundamentalists "Protestant" fundamentalists, with apologies to the vast majority of Protestant Christians who are accepting of Catholicism.

Fundamentalist Tendencies; The Code of Slogans: Legalism: Although fundamentalists constantly reiterate their belief in salvation by faith and not by law, the essential characteristic of fundamentalism is its legalism. The Bible is used by fundamentalists as a law book, which they turn into a revised list of nothing but Scripture passages that sound good in terms of their preconceived beliefs about their superiority to other religious beliefs and their hostility toward bothersome contrary passages in the Bible that sound heretical, such as all passages favorable to Catholicism. These passages making fundamentalists superior to everyone else account for their belief about their possession of God as their personal property and everybody else's belief in biblical passages the reading of which sends roughly 90% of the rest of the world straight to hell.

This number is large because 100% of `Catholics are sent 100% straight to hell, and thus Catholics turn the damnation curve sharply upward. We shall call this fundamentalist selection of Scripture passages that give them a sense of their superiority the fundamentalist "Code of Slogans" The Code of Slogans connotes fundamentalists' concentrating on only a small portion of Bible verses and their refusal to accept all other passages in the Bible, namely, those that disturb them. An example of one of their favorite rejected passages is Mt. 16:18, where Jesus tells Peter he is the rock upon which Jesus will build his church and Peter will have "the power to bind and loose." Thus, exactly like a lawyer in a court case who picks out all the cases that -- more or less -- (actually "less)" support his client's position, hoping if he drums these cases into the jury's minds powerfully enough, using all sorts of histrionics, like pretending to cry and pointing toward heaven for support, the jurors will be absolutely convinced that cases which only "more or less" support the first lawyer's case, especially if adverse counsel, on the other hand, hasn't yet discovered cases supporting his client's position, fundamentalists treat the Bible just like actual law books. And like slick Philadelphia lawyers, fundamentalists argue to the jurors of Christianity that the Bible is absolutely unerring in every single detail, even in those details of science, geography and cosmology which everyone knows to be inaccurate.

The fundamentalist legalistic use of the Bible leads to their legalistic theology. Hence, there is a certain body of acceptable beliefs to which one must adhere, or else one is not a Christian. Paradoxically, many fundamentalist doctrines are not found in Scripture, but are part of the "Code of Slogans". For example, nowhere in the Bible does it say that you must accept Jesus as "your personal Lord and Savior." Yet, fundamentalists making Jesus one's "personal Savior," is promoted in order to stress a personal" experience of salvation, which becomes a way of cutting oneself off from organized church life of some sort and giving one bragging rights that he or she has had some higher degree of the experience of a relationship with God (which grows more impressive with each episode of the telling) than people who experience salvation through a hum-drumongoing salvation experience -- in the Body of Christ, or the Church. The next characteristic of fundamentalist legalism is the belief in how one is initiated into fundamentalist Christianity -- namely, by the altar call. Whereas in the early church and even into the 16th Century with the teachings of Protestant reformers, one was universally required to be baptized following a catechumenate of some sort or another. The fundamentalists have turned initiation into Christianity into a flood of people racing down the steps of a football stadium or auditorium to be prayed over by the preacher of the event together with his colleagues. This altar-call initiation brings a more-or less-large number of people forward, down the aisles, depending on how persuasive the preacher's histrionics are. Because of their ignorance of history, buttressed by their legalism, and helpfully persuaded by a young, physically attractive husband and wife team of preachers promising great inner personal power and the coming of wealth into the lives of the altar-call fledgling draftees, altar-call recruits respond to such an extent that they too turn Scripture into their Code of Slogans, the beliefs of which, while quoting Scriptural passages, pervert those passages into a ludicrous fundamentalist creed. For example fundamentalist inductees imitate the elders in the group to which they are directed by declaiming such remarkable nonsense as that at the Last Supper, Jesus and the apostles drank grape juice. Such beliefs violate other important Scripture passages, e.g., at the Wedding Feast at Cana, Mary told Jesus the guests were out of wine and led Jesus to work his first miracle -- by his changing water into wine, not grape juice, for the guests. One presumes the guests drank the wine, as the headwaiter exclaimed to the bridegroom, "[Y]ou have saved the best wine to the last." No doubt, both at the Wedding Feast and at the Last Supper, Jesus himself would have drunk wine, not Welch's grape juice!

The Lunatic Fringe: Here we consider such un-Christian and weird behavior as public street-corner
hollering by fundamentalist Bible Thumpers. Living in a city where the fundamentalists are a major nuisance demonstrates how fundamentalists often verge on lunacy. Consider this monthly gaggle of shouters who presumably scream out Bible passages to motorists. I say "presumably" because no one knows precisely what these bellowing howlers are in fact shouting. That's because the bellowing Bible (or whatever book) ballyhooers have the look of murder on their reddened faces, are sweaty and couldn't be less attractive to anyone, especially to a single woman or a mother with small children in her car, who become understandably anxious and frightened by the stern, uncompromising overall demeanor of the hooters. Hence motorists keep their windows rolled up tightly and stare straight ahead in order to do their best to ignore the starring actors in the overwrought street theatrical performance . The actors' only audience, therefore,are fellow caterwaulers on the next corner of the street. So the public shouting of something or other -- who knows what --- is simply a way for the brainwashed propagandists to proclaim "Look at us; we alone are the true believers, the only ones who have been saved by God, but we have to shout this all over town because we are actually fearful that we are not the only holy elite of God. The louder we scream the more our hidden fears of not being saved are driven deeper into our unconscious minds."

The Fundamentalist Anti-Catholic View of the Bible: Lets run through three common fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture that promise hell-fire, and how Catholics are its principle targets. We'll look at the fundamentalists' anti-Catholic creed and give perhaps the best response Catholics could make to the fundamentalist distortion of Scripture, should a Catholic be so unfortunate as to be button-holed on the street and repeatedly forced to swear allegiance to the Code of Slogans:

(1) First, the be-all and end-all anti-Catholic catch words are "Have you been saved?" This once-saved-always-saved position (a heresy within Catholicism) demonstrates again the fundamentalist belief in the superiority of their "personal,," "insider" position with God. The Bible knocks this mockery of Scripture's position right on its face. St. Paul urges his holy flock in Philippians2:12, to "work with anxious concern to achieve their salvation," i.e., although you may have been baptized and given your lives to Christ, there is still more growth you can make toward your ultimate, end-times salvation. And in Colossians 1:24, Paul says, "I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is his church." Surely Paul had a dramatic moment of radical surrender to Jesus. Yet, he sees his continuing growth toward his ultimate, end-times salvation as requiring a continuation of sacrifice in submission to Jesus before he may be regarded as ultimately saved, with complete finality.

The linguistic tangle here is resolved if we realize that Paul preached justification as the here-and-now moment when someone accepts Christ as one's savior, i.e., justification, not final salvation, was the here-and-now result of accepting Jesus as Lord. Justification sets someone on a sure path to final, end-time salvation. This becomes clearer in Romans 5:9, where Paul says, "Now that we have been justified by his blood, it is all the more certain that we shall be saved by him from God's wrath." If Paul obviously did not believe in or preach a "one-moment-of-salvation" theology, but instead he preached salvation as an ongoing process which Christians continuously appropriate into their lives. Hence "Have you been saved?" is a bogus question for fundamentalists to ask Catholics.

(2) Next is the fundamentalist view that the Virgin Mary had other children beside Jesus. The Bible verse that the fundamentalists distort here is Mk.3:32, where a crowd tells Jesus, "Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you." Here the fundamentalist ignorance of the cultural history of the Jews of Jesus' time is shown. First of all, the early church unanimously preached that Mary was always a virgin. Second, the Jews practiced and believed in the extended family, where the notions of tribes and clans were important. In Jewish society a man could have dozens of brothers and sisters who were not children born of his mother.

The brothers and sisters in Mark's verses were part of Jesus' extended family, most likely his cousins. And since neither Greek nor Aramaic had words for "cousin," the writers of the New Testament relied on the Greek words for brothers and sisters (adelphos, adelphoi) to mean cousins. By this usage Jesus probably also had several uncles, whom he called "fathers" in his extended family.

(3) The preceding fallacy blends into another fundamentalist misreading of Scripture. They love to quote Mt 23:9, "Call No One on Earth Your Father," to depreciate the usage of "Father" for Catholic priests. This title for priests evolved out of the early Church's shared life, where priests called members of their flocks "My children" (1 Jn. 2:1) and where Christians in turn called their priests "Father." Matthew is merely saying that the Father in heaven is available to all of his children by a "direct line" through Jesus himself. This "son-ship" of Christians with God the Father does not depend on a rabbi, priest or minister as substitutes for the Christian's relationship with God the Father through the mediation of Jesus, which early priests as Fathers helped their flocks to facilitate.
--Tony Gilles

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Are We Stuck Moving in One Direction?

Despite the sophistication of the modern aircraft carrier, it will never be known as nimble, or highly maneuverable…they just don’t turn on a dime. And that’s because of what they call inertia.

Newton’s law of inertia tells us that a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by another force. What that basically means is that it’s hard to get something moving in the first place, and that once it’s moving, it’s hard to stop it, or to change direction. While Newton’s law was meant to be applied to things that have mass and form, think of it for a moment in terms of things like beliefs, or corporations, or institutions, or behaviors…especially behaviors. Think of it in terms of friends; and of families, and of communities. Think of it in terms of relationships. God designed and built us to live in relationships…with Him, with our spouses and children, with our parents and grandparents, with the people around us. It’s no wonder, then, that since the Fall of Adam and Eve, our biggest defect is our tendency towards self-absorption…that interior inertia that makes it so difficult for us to turn away from ourselves, and towards those around us…our husbands and wives, our moms and dads, our kids and grandkids, our co-workers, our fellow parishioners, the widow and the orphan, the hungry and thirsty, the sick and the lame, the imprisoned, the homeless…so difficult to turn away from ourselves, and towards God.

The story has always been the same, and our scriptural readings today poignantly outline for us the problem…and the solution.

The prophet Isaiah was called by God during the decline of the Israelite kingdom; he lived during a time when the people of God were far from Him; unwilling, and unable to turn towards God for help. Isaiah gives us the image of the vineyard that was carefully prepared and planted with the choicest vines. While poetically evoking this image, Isaiah leaves nothing to the imagination at the end: “The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant…” God’s relationship with the Israelites was one of recurrent episodes of betrayal and infidelity. Despite God’s careful tending to the vineyard, all they produced was wild grapes. God never turned away from his people, although at times He stood at a distance; it was Israel that turned away from God. And the harder and faster and longer they turned away, the more difficult it was to turn back…the law of inertia in relationships; and the more they turned away, the more it actually became a turning towards selfish desire. In those dire circumstances, they couldn’t even see God.

In our time and space, this we have come to know as addiction…that state of being where we can’t turn back. We have done the “…oh, one more time won’t hurt anything…” line of reasoning enough times that all we can see is our own disordered desire. It’s almost ironic in a sad sort of way…only God can save us at that point, and He is the very one we have turned completely away from…and that is the experience that we are all familiar with…the experience of sin.

Our responsorial psalm gives us a sense of repentance, and hope…that first step towards recovery: “…Protect what your right hand has planted…then we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name…”

And now in our gospel reading, the story Isaiah started is finished by Jesus. Even though Isaiah and Jesus are separated by some 750 years, the strength of the metaphor is not lost; it is completed. The landowner sent his son. Isaiah has already told us in his prophecy that the owner of the vineyard is the LORD of hosts, God himself…and now as Jesus completes the story, God sends his son. In both Isaiah’s story, and Jesus’ retelling, the landowner has sent his representatives to collect what is rightfully his. What appears to be the fruit of the harvest is actually love, the fruit of relationship. That’s what God wanted from the Israelites; that’s what God wants from us…our love. It’s bad enough that the landowner’s representatives were killed, but when the landowner’s son is killed, the insult and the injury are tragically magnified. The tenants’ depravity, their addiction to self-gratification, their sin, drove them to the point that they could not see what they were doing, or the consequences that would surely follow…and the landowner was left not only with righteous anger, but also the anguish of an unspeakable loss. What a moving description of sin, and its effect on us…and on God! What a moving description of the impact of inertia on our relationships!

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes.” The inertia of our addictions blinds us, and we reject the stone; we ignore it; we don’t even see it. But God never abandons us; through the death and glorious resurrection of his son, Jesus, he has poured out on us what we need to recover from our addictions, what we need to heal our incurable wounds, what we need to turn away from sin; he has poured out on us the answer to the inertia that impacts all of our relationships…and that is his Grace; and with Grace we can stop what we are doing; we can change our course in an instant. Inertia can only be countered by the application of force, and in the case of our relationships, that force is Grace…and not even the most sophisticated aircraft carrier afloat has access to that…only we do.

Deacon Bill Whibbs

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Readings
Is 5:1-7
Ps 80: 9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
Phil 4: 6-9
Mt 21: 33-43

Catholicism and Islam

There are a number of linkages between Catholicism and Islam. For example, in the Qur'an ("Koran" or the Islamic sacred scripture), Jesus is mentioned in over ninety verses.
There are more references to Mary in the Qur'an than in the Bible. There have been twelve Imams (charismatic leaders) in Islam, occupying virtually the same position as the Twelve Apostles in Christianity. The number seventy-two is likewise shared by the two faiths: For example, Muhammad's grandson, Husayn, led an expedition of 72 disciples into an important controversy with a rival faction, and in Luke 10:1 we find that the Lord appointed 72 disciples to go to every town he intended to visit and report back to him. And both the Virgin Mary and Muhammad's daughter, Fatima, stand as mothering female saints of a central holy family. Both women are considered immaculate and impeccable by Catholicism and Islam respectively.

An important relationship between Catholicism and Shi'i Muslims (but not Sunnis) was started on March 11, 1999, when then Pope John Paul II held an audience in his private library with Muhammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the leading Shi'i Islamic country in the world. Keep in mind that Islam is divided into two frequently warring and always hostile factions: Sunnis and Shi'i. The meeting between the Pope and President Khatami established Catholicism and the Shi'i faction as friends and partners in dialogue. The emotion of the moment was emphasized when one of the clerics accompanying Khatami, at the end of the meeting rushed to the Pope, embraced him and kissed him on both cheeks. The cordial contact was furthered when the Pope visited Damascus, Syria in May, 2001, a largely Shi'i city, and was warmly received. The division of Islam into Sunni and Shi'i occurred soon after Muhammad's death in 632, when the two factions became rigidly organized, down to the present day.

Their basic quarrel is over the leadership of Islam by a particular Imam (religious leader, or caliph), and the choice of whether Islam as a religion should adhere to philosophical and theological study or whether it should base itself strictly on law -- shari'a (meaning "the path" or divine will for Muslims). The Shi'i adherents of Islam are more "theological and philosophical" than the Sunnis. The latter depend for the guidance of divine law (shari'a) not on what they call the "weak human reason" of the Shi'i, but solely by reference to the Qur'an and to the traditional practice of Muhammad, "the Prophet" as found in the Hadith or writings.

The Sunnis might be thought of as analogous to Protestants in Christianity, while the Shi'i practice of Islam could be said to correspond to Catholicism. That is so because Christian Protestant evangelical fundamentalists, and the majority of Protestants generally tend toward mistrust of "vain philosophy" whereas the Shi'i have a well-developed philosophy, based not just on the Qur'an but also on the "Traditions", or "Hadith." Sunnis greatly outnumber the Shi'i in the Muslim world: out of 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide (the exact same population as that of Catholics), Shi'i number just 140 million, constituting 95 percent Shi'i in Iran, 70 percent Shi'i in Bahrain, 55 percent Shi'i in Iraq, and much lower percentages in other countries. Shi'i Islam overlaps frequently with Catholicism. One dramatic example was that of the life of the former chief justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court from 1951 to 1968, A.R. Cornelius a devout Catholic, who synthesized Islamic and Catholic values while playing a major role in the development of the Pakistani constitutional system.

When comparing Catholicism and Islam below (whether Sunni or Shi'i) in depth, we will juxtapose a Catholic doctrinal position against either the Qur'an (Islam's sacred scripture) or the Hadith (its traditional spiritual writings). By doing so we find that, even given similarities, there are significant and essential differences between Catholicism and Islam Let's turn to the writings of each faith and see what these material differences are. We will use the following system in comparing and contrasting Catholicism and Islam. "Sura" followed by a number refers to the chapter (one out of 114 total) in the Qur'an where the quotation is found, while "Hadith" followed by a number refers to the place in the collection of Traditions outside of the Qur'an regarding the life and sayings of the prophet Muhammad.

JESUS: (1a) God revealed his nature in Jesus in a way that could be seen and touched (Jn. 20:24-30; 1 Jn. 1-4); (1b) Qur'an Suras 4:157; 5:72-75 Jesus was only a prophet and he did not die on the cross.

(2a) Jesus is the exact representation of God's glory and God's being (Hebrews 1:3); (2b) Jesus Christ is not God and the Holy Spirit is not called God. Hadith: "The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an."

(3a) Jesus will return as king and lord to judge the living and the dead (Rev. 20:11-15); (3b) Jesus will return and judge people by the law of the Qur'an and establish Islam as the true religion (Hadith 4:658; 3:425).

(4a) Jesus died on the cross and took man's sin away (Jn, 1:29; 19:30; 19:40; Acts 13:28-30; (4b) "Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I shall be raised alive! Such was Jesus, son of Mary." (Sura 19:33-34)

(5a) Jesus intercedes for his followers. (Hebrews 7:24-25; (5b) "Let us request someone to intercede for us with our Lord...Jesus will say, I am not fit for this; go to Muhammad." Hadith 8:570.

(6a) Jesus will inflict punishment on those who do not acknowledge God. (2Th. 1:7-8) (6b) "[W]hen the son of Mary descends among you he will judge people by the law of the Qur'an not by the law of the Gospel (Hadith 4:658).

GOD: (1a) Christians believe in one God (Dt. 6:4); (1b) (Sura 5:116.) (Christians believe in God, Jesus, and Mary as three gods.)

(2a) Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit; he lied not to human beings but to God (Acts 5:3-4) (2b) The Holy Spirit is the angel of revelation, Gabriel (Sura 2:253).

(3a) All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God (Rom 3:213) (3b) Each person is born weak but good and does not need salvation (Sura 4:28)

(4a) Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1Jn1:3) (4b) Allah does not have fellowship with human beings

SIN: (1a) Cleanse me from my unknown faults (Ps.19:13) (1b) The Prophet said, If you do not feel ashamed, then do whatever you like (Hadith 4:690.

Post by Tony Gilles

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Jesus Freely Gives to Each of us What is Rightfully His.

If we haven’t actually experienced it ourselves, we have all probably heard of that phenomenon that occurs when we are faced with great peril, maybe even to the point of thinking that we may die as a result of whatever the threat is, and our life passes before our eyes in a flash, like when someone is drowning. Or maybe not in a flash, but in a relatively short period of time, like when an airplane encounters major mechanical problems, and begins to drop from 36,000 feet. And maybe even sometimes, it may take place over weeks or months, like an inmate on death row awaiting execution, or a prisoner of war who has no way of knowing what will happen, or when. In any event, there is an acknowledgement of all that has taken place to that point, and an acknowledgement of what is surely about to take place be it in an instant, or in a couple of hours or days, or a couple of months or years. Those who survive will tell you that the recall is vivid, detailed, and complete, and that the anticipation of what is coming, is somehow serene…although they can’t tell you how or why.

For Jesus, this process, or something like it, probably started after his rejection by the people of Nazareth, by those who had known him and whom he had known as he grew up in the home of Mary and Joseph. Their rejection was palpable; Matthew 13: 58 tells us “And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.”

Over the next twelve chapters in Matthew, Jesus moves towards Jerusalem. His face set like flint, he embraces the Father’s will. As he moves closer to Jerusalem, he acknowledges who he is, and what he must do. He shows the Apostles, disciples, followers, and even the curious through his exquisite teaching, his devotion to prayer, and his incredible miracles; who he is, and what he must do. And all the while, his relationship with his Father flashes before him; his Father’s love for him and for us all; his Father’s plan for our salvation. Jesus knows what lies ahead; he has already told his Apostles twice that he will suffer and die.

The first time, Peter rebuked him; the second time, they were all overcome with grief. Through it all, Jesus continued to heal, to teach, to forgive. He wanted us to know as much as we could absorb about his Father in the time he had left. Jesus isn’t drowning; his airplane hasn’t experienced mechanical failure and isn’t falling from the sky; but Jesus’ identity, and the love he shares with his Father, and his mission to die for our sake and rise from the dead to silence death forever are flashing before his eyes. And he explains it all to us in his parables, those pithy little stories about things we experience in everyday life that Jesus stands on their heads to make a point about Truth.

Jesus gives us the story of the landowner and the vineyard workers. It has been called “the workers in the vineyard”, or “the good employer”, or “the affirmative action employer”…even “the prodigal employer”. In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus wants us to know the depth and breadth, and the unconditional nature of the Father’s love. The prodigal employer helps us to understand the Father’s passion to give us his mercy, which we don’t deserve, balanced by his justice, which we need.

Certainly this landowner could have sent his steward to hire all of the help he needed at dawn; but instead, the landowner himself goes out repeatedly, pursuing in a sense, all of those in need of work. He offers the going rate to the first he hires, but those hired later, he assures them of “…what is just…” At the end of the day, all he had to do was pay them in the order in which he had hired them, which was the custom, to avoid any grumbling...but he did just the opposite. God knows us so well. Those who had worked an hour or less were ecstatic because of the landowner’s generosity and mercy; those he hired first, who in fact did work the full day, and bore the heat, at that point expected more than they deserved, and received what was promised. In the face of the grumbling, the landowner essentially tells them “…I am not cheating you…I paid you what we had agreed on, and it was fair…” and then the zinger, the Truth: “…or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?”

As Jesus walks for the last time towards Jerusalem; as his life, and his mission, and the love that exists between Jesus and his Father, and his life of miracles, healing, forgiving, and rejection flash before him…what he wants us to understand is that all of it…all of Jesus’ life…all of our lives…are his. And in his justice, and generosity; in his Mercy, and his Love…he has freely given to each and all of us what is rightfully his. He has shared his Life with us…and he asks us to share it with each other.
Post by Deacon Bill Whibbs.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, Is 55: 6-9, Ps 145: 2-3, 8-9, 17-18, Phil 1: 20c-24, 27a, Mt 20: 1-16a

Not judge…to NOT judge…THAT can be the hardest part of all.

It was the late shift in the Emergency Room on a Saturday night …anybody who’s had to be treated in the E.R. on a Saturday night knows it can be a little crazy; anybody who’s had to work there on a Saturday night has to BE a little crazy. It’s pretty steady through the early evening, and then it’s like a bus arrives around 10 p.m., and it takes about 4 hours to clear it out…and then the 2 a.m. bus arrives…and it’s the 2 a.m. bus that really tests your skill; and your patience; and your kindness…yeah, your kindness…that special kindness that helps you to listen, to evaluate, to discern, to share, to counsel…and to not judge…to NOT judge…and THAT can be the hardest part of all.

It was three patients…back to back to back…that challenged…and taught…the young physician whose 24 hour shift would end at 6 a.m. the most valuable of lessons.

The first was a middle-aged slightly overweight but basically healthy guy at his 30th high school reunion who developed chest pain and some shortness of breath in the middle of a push-up contest with his former football teammates. “I can’t believe this! I used to be able to do a hundred push-ups without breaking a sweat…I guess I’m a little out of shape…” he said. While the doc was waiting for the lab results, the second patient arrived.

She was a thin girl brought in by a friend who was concerned. The girl was well-dressed and quite attractive…except for the two swollen black eyes, the nose that sort of laid over a little on her right cheek, and the busted lip. “I fell down the stairs…” she said. Her friend said “…he beat you up…again.” The girl cried and said “He’s a great guy…he only does this when he’s been drinking.” The young doc asked her, almost embarrassed, “How much does he drink?” She replied “A lot…all the time.” He asked her “Did he do anything else to you?” She simply turned towards the wall and sobbed. She was sent for x-rays, and the domestic abuse counselor was called.

By now the labs were back on the push-up champ, and he hadn’t had a heart attack. The doc sat down with him, looked him in the eye, and said, as kindly as he could “George, you have to start taking better care of yourself. You’re not 18 anymore; your blood pressure is up and so is your cholesterol. You need to change what you are doing…now. Eat better, lose some weight, get some regular, reasonable exercise…at the next reunion, you’ll leave them all in the dust!” Crest-fallen, the man agreed…he knew what he had to do, and was determined. “Thanks doc; I was really scared, ya’ know?”

The young girl’s x-rays showed a fracture of the nose, and as they were repairing her lip the doctor, the friend and the counselor all told her that she couldn’t go back to him; that this was going to happen over and over; that he needed help she couldn’t give him; and that there was a place she could live that was safe until he got some help. She said “I just can’t live like this anymore…” and she agreed to a safe house. And then, just as things were starting to settle down, the police arrived…two squad cars.

Two officers ran in and said “We’re gonna’ need some help.” The E.R. team grabbed a gurney and headed out the door. Two other officers were wrestling a man…a large, strong man…out of the back seat…the one with the bars and the thick metal mesh. He was homeless and had barged into an apartment at a housing complex, wild-eyed, and assaulted the occupants, claiming they were possessed. It took six people to get him secured on the gurney, and the whole time he was flailing, mumbling about the aliens and the weird electrical rays they were pumping into his head. In addition to four police officers and two squad cars, this one also required sedation, a drug counsellor, a psychiatric case worker, and the case worker on call for Catholic Charities. After a short stay in the detox unit, he had a place to stay and a plan for treatment.

Today’s Gospel outlines Jesus’ teaching, his rules of engagement, concerning our interaction with our brothers and sisters when they are in trouble…and their interaction with us when we are. In psychological terms, this is what is referred to as an intervention. You may have seen one or two on Dr. Phil, or one of the reality television programs…you may have also been a part of one for a family member. The secular versions are not pretty, but even those can be pretty effective. They just aren’t complete.

What happened in the E.R. on that Saturday night is at least a dim reflection of what can happen when we abandon ourselves…go out on that limb…for each other. It’s what can happen when we reach out and embrace each other’s woundedness and brokenness. The beauty in what Jesus teaches is that our interventions should always take place within a framework that includes an understanding of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and the Church family. Look, our Church family is just as dysfunctional as any of our nuclear and extended families are, and what we all have to understand is that Jesus suffered and died to save us from our dysfunctionality. The next time one of our brothers or sisters sins against us, take a moment to recall what Jesus did for us, and what he wants from us in return: that special kindness that helps us to listen, to evaluate, to discern, to share, to counsel…and to not judge…to NOT judge…and THAT can be the hardest part of all.
Post by Deacon Bill Whibbs.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ez 33: 7-9, Ps 95: 1-2, 6-7, 8-9, Rom 13: 8-10, Mt 18: 15-20

The Invisible God Made Visible by Love.

Let's explore for a moment the two ways of spelling the word "sacrament." One is with a lower case "s," that is, sacrament, and the other is with a capital "S," that is Sacrament.. I contend there are more "small-s sacraments" celebrated and capable of being celebrated in the world than the number of dollars in the hole represented by the United States' present bankruptcy bottom line of more than $17 trillion. Yes I maintain that there are at least 17 trillion (and perhaps even more) "small-s sacraments" in the world available to the earth's human beings.

Here's an example of what I mean by "small-s sacrament": A young couple, obviously very much in love, both wishing to get married, are taking a walk out in nature, holding hands, both wishing to get married. They rest for a moment on a majestic mountainside, gazing silently at the beautiful sunset. The vision essentially transfixes them. The young man presses his beloved's hand even firmer than when they were walking, looks into the young lady's eyes and says, as if he could wait no longer, "Darling, will you marry me?"

She responds with a glowing smile on her face. "Oh, yes, Sweetheart, please let's do. I am so sure of our love that I can wait no longer to begin to love you for the rest of my life." This episode is a "small-s sacramental" moment. With astonishing clarity and intensity, the two lovers are brought by the circumstances of the present moment to observe and admit the truth of their love for each other clearly and the truth of the commitment they choose to make a lifetime marriage. Why is this a "small-s sacrament"?

It is such a moment because the Catholic conviction is that if one sees clearly and unmistakably a great, God-given truth and yields to it, so as to make one's life more meaningful and the life of another happier and more rewarding, both parties will have been deeply graced. And grace is the Christ-given love that undergirds all that exists. The two lovers "love one another as Christ loves each of them respectively." Without necessarily realizing it or being "knocked over" by it in a dramatic fashion, the young couple beholds the omnipresence of grace in their agreement to marry and live together as lovers well and wisely.

The entire sacramental life, both "small-s," and "capital-S," is based on people being nurtured to become beholders of and to surrender to the grace that is based on Christ's love which fills the entire universe and is made abundantly available, especially in the "Capital-S Sacraments." But we need to say more about the "capital-S Sacramental life." That life is the conviction that if we truly see and fully appreciate what is there in the Church's divinely instituted seven Sacraments we will be encountering Christ's grace, stored up for us by him for centuries.

We will encounter his love as it undergirds all that exists, most powerfully in the Sacraments. Christ's love, when it can be fully perceived by the recipient of a Sacrament, awakens, enlivens, and expands the imagination, opens the vision, and enriches the sensitivity of the recipient toward an elevated love for Christ. (And even in infant Baptism godparents can "stand in" to nourish their godchild along to the age of understanding the amazing gift they received from Christ in the Sacrament of initiation.) Catholicism is shaped by the conviction that Christ's grace lies at the root of all reality. Dante, in the closing lines of his Divine Comedy, recognizes deeply "the love that moves the sun and other stars."

This is Dante's statement of the Sacramental principle: the universe, the sun and all the stars, are grounded and governed by love. The universe exists because of Christ's infinite self-gift. This enlivens the Catholic tradition at its best in the Sacramental life, where the recipient of a Sacrament receives Christ's infinite self-gift, not as the glory of all that is created in the universe, but in the heart of Christ's beloved who has received Christ's self-gift personally, intimately, person-to-person in the Sacraments.

This person-to-person communication between the loving Christ and his beloved who receives Christ through the Sacraments, there is something more profound than our two lovers' "s-sacramental" moment on the mountainside -- in fact something of more ultimate, infinite profoundness--namely the Catholic Sacramental Tradition. You will have noticed that the young couple above said nothing about God's presence either in their lives or in their upcoming marriage. In the Sacramental tradition, especially as it has been bequeathed to us by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), God is at the core of both Catholic theology and the practice of Catholics participating in the Sacramental life.. Here, Thomas makes one of his all-encompassing definitions in just a few words of an absolutely essential aspect of Catholic Sacramental theology:

"The Power of Christ's passion is joined to us through faith and through the Sacraments, yet in different ways; for the contact which is through faith takes place through the act of the soul, but the contact which is through the Sacraments takes place through the use of external things." [He speaks to the concrete manner in which everything that the Savior did and suffered in the flesh reaches us] "spiritually through faith and bodily through the Sacraments, for Christ's humanity is simultaneously spirit and body in order that we might be able to receive into ourselves--we who are spirit and body--the effect of the sanctification that comes to us through Christ."

So now we know that the Sacraments are essentially connected to faith, that they involve the use of "external things," and that they are instruments of saving grace. Putting all this together we find a concise definition of the Sacraments in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The Sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the Sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each Sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions."(CCC 1131).

The Sacraments are not simply ceremonies. They are efficacious, which means that they DO SOMETHING. And what they do is what they signify. They actually do what they point to. So, for example, Baptism, which is a sign of washing, actually washes us, i.e., it washes us clean of sin. Why do the Sacraments have this power to DO SOMETHING?

The Catechism gives the answer: They are efficacious, i.e., they do something because in them Christ himself is at work. For example, in Baptism, it is Christ who baptizes, and further it is he who acts in his Sacraments as a whole in order to communicate the grace that each Sacrament signifies. At the moment of reception, Christ is thinking of the recipient, turning his redemptive love upon him, and reaching out to sanctify him. This is consistent with the theology of Jesus' Passion, Death and Resurrection. As Jesus experienced these mysteries he could see all people of all time.
Jesus was thinking of you and me as he suffered and died for us, and in the same vein he was mindful of every Sacrament we would ever receive throughout our lives. More powerfully, Jesus was inviting us in each Sacrament that we receive now to be united with him in the mystery of his sacrifice back then.

The Sacraments, then, have the same miraculous quality to them that Jesus' saving of us through his
death on the cross has. He saw all of us in those terrible three hours of incredible suffering on the cross, where he poured out infinitely his saving love for us. The salvific effect of his crucifixion and death for us had the same effect back then as it has now in the Sacraments.

We can distinguish clusters of the Sacraments: Three of the Sacraments are Sacraments of Christian initiation, namely, Baptism, the Eucharist and Confirmation. Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace, as through the anointing with oil in Confirmation those who are baptized share more completely in the mission of Jesus. The Holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. Those who have been baptized and confirmed participate with the whole community in the Lord's own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist.
 Post by Tony Gilles

Sunday, September 7, 2014


The Path to the Bible Let's start with a foundational principle by stating the following: The Bible developed within and came to us from the Roman Catholic Church. The Church's shaping, writing and interpretation of the Bible began shortly after Jesus died and has continued into the Catholic Bibles we have today. In America of course, the Bible has come down to us in English, and we will see later what various approved modern English "versions" are and how they came to us through the Church's supervision and approval. But let us not overlook this fundamental truth: "The Bible is the Church’s Book."

The reverse is not the case, that is, the Bible did not "give us" the Church. Various good Christian Protestant groups believe this latter principle, i.e., they believe in good faith that the Bible is something like a blueprint for the church. With respect for Protestants who hold this position, twenty-one centuries of history and scholarship demonstrate conclusively that the path to today’s Bible travels through Catholicism all the way from the early church Fathers to today's English versions of the Bible.

However, this principle does not mean that the Church's dogma is somehow superior to the Bible, or that the Church can hold doctrines that contradict what is said in the Bible. Rather, the Church has always remained faithful to the Bible as the word of God, and scrupulously follows the Bible as it has been translated and interpreted within the magisterium of the Church for the Church's teaching and liturgy. The Catholic Church believes in the truth of the Holy Spirit's ongoing revelation to the Church, and sees this revelation as based on a twofold source -- the Bible and Tradition. Neither source can contradict the other. The truths of the Bible exist within the Church's Tradition, and the Church's Tradition must be, and always has been, completely faithful to the Bible.

That is why we can say that the Bible is the Church's book. The Bible and the Church's Tradition are twin pillars of revelation, with each pillar upholding and supporting the other. Hence the Holy Spirit's ongoing teaching to and guiding of the Church (i.e., the Spirit's revelation to the Church) is fulfilled through adherence, both to the Bible and to Tradition, namely: the doctrinal positions and dogma that the Church's magisterium has developed always with its eye on the Bible. We can see how each of the components of the Holy Spirit's revelation works -- through Scripture and Tradition -- by looking at Jesus' use of Scripture during his earthly ministry. Jesus gave us the Church, and through the Holy Spirit he used the Church's inspired authors of sacred Scripture to form, plant and grow that Church.

Jesus' Use of Scripture

Jesus was well versed in the Hebrew Bible, or what came to be called the "Old Testament." Of course he could not have known anything about the New Testament, as that part of the Bible was not written until after Jesus' death. But the New Testament conclusively shows Jesus' knowledge of and respect for the Old Testament.

For example, consider the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 4, verses 1 through 10, (cited in shorthand as "Mt.4:1-10"), which are concerned with Jesus' temptation in the desert after he had fasted for forty days and forty nights. (By his use of ’’forty" Matthew is recalling the Israelites' forty years in the desert after they had escaped from Egypt. (See the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy chapter 8, verse 2, or in shorthand, "Dt." 8:2)

In Mt.4:3-4 the devil urges Jesus to turn stones into loaves of bread. Jesus refuses, prefacing his remarks with the words, " [I] t is written. . . (Mt .4:4) , One does not live by bread alone..." Next, Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and dares Jesus to throw himself down, as Satan himself quotes Scripture, saying, "It is written..." God "will command his angels" save you from harm. Jesus answers, "Again it is written...Mt.4:7, ’You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test,'" with Matthew again referring to the Old Testament (this time to Dt. 6:16).

Satan tries one last time to get Jesus to succumb to temptation by promising Jesus, from a high mountain, to give him "all the kingdoms of the world," if Jesus will worship Satan. Jesus, for the third time answers, again using Scripture, saying with finality to Satan in Mt.4:10, "Get away Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God shall you worship and him alone shall you serve." Here Matthew quotes Deuteronomy (Dt. 6:13)as Jesus' final rebuke of Satan.

Jesus in Mt.4:l-10 above shows his respect for ancient Scripture by quoting passages from the Old Testament (he introduces these passages by "It is written," three times) to rebuke Satan and get rid of him. Jesus1 use of Scripture to get rid of the devil was not necessary. He could have snapped his fingers and kicked Satan back to hell simply by his divine authority over both heaven and earth. But Jesus looked both back and ahead in all he did in his earthly ministry.

He looked back in that he wanted to show the future church that he himself, the church’s founder, had in his life and teaching, based himself on "It is written," (i.e., on the sacred Scrptures written in the past). And he looked ahead to the church's life, by showing future exponents of church doctrine and teaching that these sacred Scriptures were the foundation of the upcoming centuries of the church's dogma. In other words Jesus himself was the founder of the use of both Scripture and Tradition for the church that he was establishing through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ quotation from the Hebrew Bible was nothing like quotation from a "book" as we know Bibles today. Rather, Jesus and all Jews of his day, when quoting from the Old Testament, were quoting from written scrolls. The best examples of Jesus' use of these scrolls in synagogue worship, just as all the Jews of his day likewise used them, is found in Luke’s Gospel, 4:16-21, where Jesus was handed a scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth. He stood up to read it and then unequivocally referred to the scroll as containing a "scripture passage" from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus’ thoughts and speech were based on Scripture, and he wanted his church to emulate him in that respect.

The Hebrew Bible (Our "Old Testament")

Shortly after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, and into the 2nd Century, The Hebrew scrolls containing sacred Scriptures came to be known collectively as the Hebrew Bible (from the Greek byblos, "book") in the year 100 A.D. Until then the Jews relied on scrolls scattered around in various synagogues in various cities and towns in Palestine, but with no one particular Jewish elder or synagogue having access to all of the Old Testament scrolls at the same time.

What happened, then, in the year 100 A.D. to change this picture? In that year the most respected Jewish elders from Palestinian Israel, Alexandria in Egypt and more far­away locales like Antioch, Babylon, Ephesus and perhaps even Rome, met at a sea-coast town named Jamnia in Philistia. Their mission was to assemble and collect into one document as many as possible of the haphazardly scattered Hebrew scrolls that the most trusted and erudite Jewish elders argued were collections of the Jewish sacred texts of Scripture. Hence at Jamnia in 100 A.D., the agenda was an agreement upon and collection of one official set of written scrolls from around the Near and Middle East that were to be formally considered the Hebrew scriptures, or, taken all together, their unified ’’Byblos’1 or "Bible.”

Once they had pulled together and agreed upon the scrolls that infallibly made up their new Bible, then their more difficult task began. That task was to undertake the intellectually vexing projects of: (1) copying and translating their one agreed-upon collection of their most reliable ancient scrolls into a new single body collection (later called their "Canon” of Scripture) (2) and then disseminating as many volumes of their new Hebrew Bible as possible throughout the Jewish world.

Translation of the Hebrew Canon Into Greek Because of the movement to and settlement of a large population of Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, a city of Greek language and culture, the work of translating and copying the Jewish sacred books into Greek began on a large scale. The name of this Greek translation in Alexandria, which was to have such a large effect on assisting both Jews and Christians in harmonizing and gathering together their eventual and respective canons of Scripture, was the Septuagint, or, in Latin, the "Seventy."

The name was said to mean that a number of Jewish translators, said to be 72 in number, or 6 men from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, gathered in Alexandria and translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. This facilitated the spread of the Old Testament writings far beyond the linguistic boundary imposed by limiting the Jewish sacred writings to the Hebrew language.

Furthermore, since many of the writers of the eventual •Christian Old Testament were fluent in Greek and wrote in Greek, they were able to use the Greek Septuagint for developing their compilation of the Christian Old Testament. Further, Christian writers who used Greek to write the New Testament, by referring to the Septuagint, could more easily understand the themes that would be essential to making the transition from Old Testament thought into the New Testament and other Christian writings.

In short, the Septuagint was a vital gift to Christians. It made the weaving together of Old and New Testament religious thought possible. It likewise assisted some Jews to look toward becoming Christians, as Christianity was shown to be sympathetic to and congruent with Septuagint Judaism. From St. Jerome’s "Vulgate" to the English Bible Beginning in 389 A.D. one of the ancient world’s greatest linguistic scholars (not just a "Catholic" scholar), St. Jerome (342-420), took on the task of translating into Latin both the ancient Hebrew version of the Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. Jerome's translation took into account that in the Roman Empire of his day Latin had become the popular conversational tongue, or vernacular. Hence his translation came to be called "The Vulgate" (meaning "common," "popular" or "usual"), but the name Vulgate was not used by Jerome himself.

The name Vulgate was not attached to his translation until well after Jerome finished his translation, i.e., in 405 A.D. The Vulgate became the basic Latin Bible during the Middle Ages and was used exclusively as the authoritative Catholic Bible in monasteries, schools of theology for seminarians and by scholars when universities came on the scene. Then, too, the Vulgate was used as the basic Catholic liturgical Bible. Yet it is doubtful how many chruch goers could understand anything read to them from it, since Latin, ironically once the vernacular for all Christians, was now solely the church's language. Church Latin was overwhelmed by many new tongues, and users of these new languages had to rely on the church's liturgical use of Latin and its translations essentially "on faith."

The Church irrevocably fixed the name "Vulgate" to Jerome's translation only at the Council of Trent in 1546, after that Council had supervised and corrected several poor copies of Jerome’s translation. From 1546 on, the Vulgate was said by the Church to be the ’’authentic text” of the Bible to be used by the Catholic Church. However the authenticity assigned to the Vulgate was intended to mean that the Vulgate was free of error in faith and morals, not that there were no errors in copies, translations, punctuation, grammar and the like.

England, English Bibles, and ’’Versions”

Discussing the Vulgate moves us, as we have seen, past the Council of Trent, and from there onward into later centuries. Since there was no existing English language into which Jerome could translate his Vulgate, his Latin Bible was the principle authoritative Catholic Bible until the coming of the Protestant Reformation. The English Reformation began in the reign of King Henry VIII (1491-1547). At one point, ironically, Henry had written a treatise highly critical of Martin Luther, earning for him the title "Defender of the Faith" from Pope Leo X in 1521.

However, Henry had marriage difficulties, and could not talk Pope Clement VII into letting him divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Catherine seemed unable to produce a male heir for Henry, and thus, despite the pope's refusal to grant Henry a divorce, he sought to marry Anne Boleyn for whom he had great passionate interests. He did marry her, and she was crowned Queen on June 1, 1533. From that point on, Henry belligerently established the Church of England as under his control and authority. He now encouraged translations of the Bible into English. Previously Henry, in his Catholic persona, had banned English translations, but English translations now came fully out into the open under Henry's Protestant self.

Henry authorized publication of the first complete English Bible, both Old and New Testaments, to be published in England. The Bible's translations into English became numerous and popular. The first complete English translation of the Bible was produced by Miles Coverdale in 1537, backed up by the royal license from Henry. We need not plunge into Henry's marital acrobatics and his execution of Catholics. The point we are trying to pursue is the coming and going of the Bible in English. The rash of publications of Protestant English Bibles led to the beginning of a new term for biblical translations, namely, "versions." There were approximately 14 versions (i.e., 14 different translations, with more on the horizon) of the new Protestant English Bible. As politics in England vacillated between Catholic and Protestant successors of Henry VIII, things ended up with leading Catholic biblical scholars practicing their faith underground, but ultimately deciding to translate the Vulgate into English. Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I, a staunch Protestant and murderous opponent of Catholics, absolutely forbade the slightest glimmer of any sort of Catholic Bible.

As a result of the proliferation of Protestant English versions, English Catholic scholars at the college of Douay in England began a new Catholic English translation, the first ever undertaken in England. Owing to increasing hostility of Queen Elizabeth to their work, Catholics moved the college at Douay to a safer location, Rheims, in France. (Rheims in French is pronounced "Reance".) The Catholic translators in Rheims published their Catholic English New Testament in 1582 — the first such version ever achieved. The work on the Catholic English Old Testament had finished before the college at Douay moved to Rheims, but because of a lack of funds it was not published until 1610 -- at Douay. Because of the split in locations of the English Catholic publication of the Old and New Testaments, respectively, the final combined Catholic Bible, when published as a whole, acquired the name of "The Rheims-Douay Version," or "RD" version.

As for a single Protestant English translation, a new monarch, King James I, called for this to be done. It was started in 1607 and relied heavily on the RD Version for its New Testament translation. The Protestant Version was published in 1611 under the title, "The King James Version," or eventually, "The Authorized Version." This was essentially the only English Bible used by both English and American Protestants until 1953 when the publication of the Revised Standard Version appeared.

As for the Catholic RD version, it too underwent revisions, being changed several times, most importantly and with finality in 1943 with the papal encyclical issued by Pope Pius XII, entitled Divino Afflante Spiritu. In this encyclical, Pius XII revolutionized the research standards by Catholic Scripture scholars in making translations of the Bible that would be accepted by the Catholic Church. Pius did not simply authorize use of the ancient languages for Catholic translations, but insisted on them.

So much for the Vulgate, which had from the first and through many later revisions over 19 centuries, relied only on St. Jerome's Latin translation. The pope also promoted the "historical critical method" to be used by Catholic biblical scholars. This meant that scholars were to make their translations from the ancient sources only by first of all understanding the cultural, literary, linguistic, political and religious history of the lands from which the ancient languages came.

Both Protestants and Catholics have the exact same Books of the New Testament in their respective Bibles, although these two versions differed in their translations until well into the 20th Century. It was then that scholars on both sides realized that any translation of the Bible had to rely on the ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin versions if they were to be reliable. So, these two groups of biblical scholars said, "Let's rely on the ancient texts when making modern translations instead of trying to sway our translations toward our particular denomination's dogma."

In other words, biblical scholarship became more scientific and open-minded instead of being rooted in the respective doctrines of Protestants and Catholics. Nowadays, thanks to Pope Pius XII, Catholic biblical scholars have moved toward translations based strictly on the ancient languages and away from the five-centuries-old Douay-Rheims Catholic Doctrinal translation. And Protestants started doing much the same thing.

However, while Protestant and Catholic New Testaments have the exact same books in them, there is a major difference between Catholic and Protestant versions of the Old Testament. Catholic Old Testaments have seven more books in them than are found in Protestant Old Testaments, and in addition Catholic Old Testaments have added language in them that is missing in the same Protestant books of their Old Testaments.

Pius XII*s upgrading of the standards for Catholic biblical research was replicated at Vatican II in The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). In referring to what we considered at the start of this article on Scripture and Tradition, the Council in Dei Verbum, said:

Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them flowing out from the same divine wellspring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal. Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. Del Verbum 9. 

Authored by: Tony Gilles

(All published with the Church's Imprimatur)