Showing posts with label Christ. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christ. Show all posts

Monday, July 13, 2015

Yes, Jesus Does Love Us All...But Do We Love Him Enough to Respond?


This morning, I came across an interesting article that was shared on Facebook by Vatican Radio. It talked about mercy and repentance in regards to divorced and remarried Catholics. True to Facebook, a number of responses began taking up the same old refrain—that by withholding Communion from the divorced and remarried, the Church was refusing to show mercy to the repentant. As one Facebook poster put it, "If God forgives...why can't we human being forgive our fellow men who have repented their sins?” Such a response is common nowadays. Unfortunately, when our attitude is that of regretting that a conflict exists between us and the Church teaching without the corresponding attitude of wanting to make things right, it shows that we do not understand what we are even saying when we say “why can’t the Church forgive?"
It is important to ask, What does repentance really require? If we have a wrong idea on what it means then we will have a wrong response on what we must do. Of course it doesn’t help that the English language has taken a rich word in penance and reduced in such a way as to give someone the impression of something out of Monty Python...
Repent essentially comes from the Latin paenitentia, which has a meaning of “regret (for act); change of mind/attitude; repentance/contrition.” It’s literally the same meaning as the Greek metanoia. When the New Testament uses the word “repent” in our English translations, it is using different verb tenses of Metanoia. Since metanoia = paenitentia, a proper understanding of repenting for our sins means to regret what we have done, changing our attitude over what we have done, and showing that we are sorry for what we have done.
The Catholic concept of the Act of Contrition expresses the attitude to be present in repentance:
My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. 
I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more,
and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
In His name, my God, have mercy.
So, when we do wrong, we have to ask ourselves—do we really want to put that sin behind us and are we willing to change our lives in a way that seeks to avoid that sin in the future to the best of our ability, trusting in God’s grace to help? Or do we have no intention of turning away from our wrongdoing and expect God and/or the Church to change their rules so we don’t have to change?
In other words, Jesus died on the Cross for us so we could be saved. It is indeed an action which shows that God loved us far more than we deserve and far more than we could ever hope to repay. But the fact that His action is one we cannot repay does not mean that the act is a “Get out of Hell Free” card where we do not need to respond to it. Ultimately it is a question of love. Jesus loves us…but do we love Him enough to be bothered to respond?
That’s the question. Many of us just want “cheap grace,” where we want salvation, but get angry if we point out that we are called to respond to it. That’s not love. That’s a sense of entitlement. Our Lord spoke of His kingdom as so valuable, that we ought to be willing to sell all we own (i.e. give up everything) to gain it:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,* which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. 46 When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. (Matthew 13:44-46)

So, why do we treat it like we’ll take it as a freebie, but won’t sell anything of what we have to gain it? What does that tell us about how much God really means to us?
We should think about that every time we think that a teaching should be changed to suit us, or think that God doesn’t really care about something He took the time to forbid. If we love Him, then let us show it in our actions. Because we need to remember that Jesus told us:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,* but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.* Depart from me, you evildoers.’ 


24 *“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” (Matthew 7:21-27)

Let us keep these things in mind when we are tempted to treat God’s love lightly.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

ALL of Us Must Seek Out God and Repent, Not Just THEM.

Personal Infallibility


Following the Catholic news, blogs and the combox comments, one gets the impression that things are getting out of control in America. What we’re seeing is a number of people declaring that when the Church teaching goes counter to what they hold, it’s the Church that’s in the wrong. We’re also seeing them point to whatever document or press conference that has a soundbite that suits them to justify their own position—even though looking at these soundbites in context show that their position cannot be justified.

Of course when you raise this point, the usual response is to assume that those who are guilty are those from the other side of the political perspective, and investigating one’s own position is treated as politically motivated persecution: Why are you focussing on us when those people are doing THAT?  It’s basically a view that says that only people who hold a position in opposition to mine is error.

The Authority Given to the Church is not Optional

The problem is, no individual has the charism of infallibility which allows them to declare that the Church is in error while they are not. This is given individually to the successor of St. Peter in limited circumstances, and collegiately to the bishops in even more limited circumstances.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:

891 “The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful—who confirms his brethren in the faith—he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council.418 When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed,”419 and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.”420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.421

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent”422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

2035 The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism of infallibility. This infallibility extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed.77

2036 The authority of the Magisterium extends also to the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation. In recalling the prescriptions of the natural law, the Magisterium of the Church exercises an essential part of its prophetic office of proclaiming to men what they truly are and reminding them of what they should be before God.78 (1960)

2037 The law of God entrusted to the Church is taught to the faithful as the way of life and truth. The faithful therefore have the right to be instructed in the divine saving precepts that purify judgment and, with grace, heal wounded human reason.79 They have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church. Even if they concern disciplinary matters, these determinations call for docility in charity. (2041)

When the Church teaches on what the faithful must do, we are called to give our assent (acceptance), and docility (readiness to accept instruction) when the Church calls us to respond to the moral issues of our day. Refusing to do so is to deny that the Church has the authority, that she claims to have from Christ, to make such demands on us. But there’s the problem. If one denies that the Church can teach us in a binding way, then she has no real authority other than a social club and it makes no sense to want to change the teachings. Just go elsewhere.

On the other hand, if the Church does have this authority given to her by Christ, then rejecting the teaching of the Church is rejecting Christ. That’s a serious matter, because Christ died to save us, and if we reject Him, we reject the salvation He gave us. He loves us, but He made clear that loving Him means keeping His commandments (John 14:15), and one of his commandments is heeding His Church (Luke 10:16; Matt 18:17).

Exalting Ourselves, Denigrating Others

The standard behavior is to look at ourselves as if we were the paragons of virtue, while those we disagree with ideologically are seen as what is wrong with the world. It’s easy to use someone who seems worse as the measure—if I don’t behave like that, it must mean I am a good person. What’s more, if the Church judges our behavior, it means that they give support to the sinners. Because we aren’t the sinners, their actions must mean the Church is teaching error.

The problem is, that’s not the standard Christ holds us to. It doesn’t matter that we’re better than somebody else. The question is, are we recognizing our own sins and repenting from them? The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector shows us what is wrong with the attitude of “Better than them."

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. 10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ 13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

We may do good things. We may not sin in the same way others do. That doesn’t matter. We’re still called to repent in the areas where our lives where we have gone against what it means to be a Christian. As Jesus told us:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’


24 *“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.sBut it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. 26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”  (Matthew 7:21-27)

So, when Jesus teaches, whether through the words of Scripture we have or through the Church He established, we’re called to heed what He has to say.

The House on Sand

But our tendency is to build on sand. We equate our worldly political alliances with doing the will of God. When a behavior endorsed by our political party of preference is called “sinful” by the Church, we respond by being outraged at the “partisanship” of the bishops. When it is a behavior endorsed by the rival political party, we applaud the Church. But the problem is, what the Church has had to say on right and wrong has predated the Democratic and Republican parties by over 1800 years. How we mistreat others may change in different eras of history, but that doesn’t change the fact that mistreating people is always wrong. Neither political party is entirely correct. Whether the issue is abortion, the contraception mandate, so-called “same sex marriage,” torture or economic exploitation, these things are wrong. There are sins that cry to Heaven, according to the Catechism:

1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are “sins that cry to heaven”: the blood of Abel,139 the sin of the Sodomites,140 the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt,141 the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan,142 injustice to the wage earner.143

(That basically denounces both political parties in America).

Yes, we are called to oppose these sins when done by the opposing political party. But more importantly, we are called to oppose these sins when they are done by our own political party—That’s putting Jesus first, and thus building the house on solid rock.

Metanoia and Paenitentia: The Change of Mind and Heart

To be in error is not a rare thing. We’re finite human beings and we don’t always consider the possibility that we’ve made a mistake. The question is, what do we do with our errors. Do we constantly look at what we hold to see if they are compatible with what God has taught us? As soon as we stop looking, that’s when we stop repenting from our sins.

The Greek Metanoia and the Latin Paenitentia have the same basic sense: change of mind or heart, repentance, regret. For the Christian, it’s a recognition that what we have done is not in accordance with what God has called us to be. It’s this recognition which causes us to pray the confiteor at Mass:

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do;
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

If we support what the Church says we must not do; if we oppose what the Church says we must do, we need metanoia—to change our hearts and minds, to repent of what we have done and failed to do. God calls us to do so, and offers us the grace to do so. But we have to accept it. We can’t be saved if we refuse to change to what God calls us to be.

Monday, November 10, 2014

God Protects His Church In Communion With the Pope...Even Pope Francis


The case of the media getting the news wrong about the workings of the Church is nothing unusual. When you assign reporters to the religion beat who know nothing about  the topic, the results are going to be bad (I’ve seen them cite the Landover Baptist Church before, not realizing it is a parody). So, of course when the secular media covers the Church, you’re going to see reporting that is very badly informed.

On the other hand, it is curious to see how self-professed faithful Catholics who claim to be well informed about the faith can make the same mistakes about the news of the Church. If one understands what the Church is, and what she teaches, it becomes clear that the Church is not going to be changing her teaching under Pope Francis. Even if he wanted to (and he doesn’t), God would protect him from teaching error in matters pertaining to salvation. The issue of saying that one may receive the Eucharist when it would be sacrilegious to do so is something that falls under the category of matters pertaining to salvation.

Ultimately, these Catholics have forgotten that the Church is protected by Jesus Christ, and He sustains her in different ways.

The Ground Floor Failsafe: Jesus Christ Protects His Church Always

So, trust in Jesus Christ to protect the Church from teaching error in matters pertaining to salvation means we don’t fear that Pope Francis will change the Church teaching in such a way that puts peoples souls in jeopardy.

But some people who profess to be faithful and informed Catholics do not know this. They believe the Pope can err, and need to be disobeyed—and they believe this is happening at this time under Pope Francis.

The Vatican I document Pastor Aeternus describes it as such:

For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles. And indeed all the venerable Fathers have embraced and the holy orthodox Doctors have venerated and followed their apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of Saint Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error, according to the divine promise of the Lord our Saviour made to the Prince of His disciples: “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren.”

This belief is sound. If Jesus Christ promised St. Peter that what was bound on Earth would be bound in Heaven (Matthew 16: 18-19), there are two choices:

  1. God will accept the binding of error and loosing of truth.
  2. God will protect the Church, under St. Peter, from binding error and loosing truth.

Remember, Jesus Christ willed that there be a Church, under the headship of Peter, that carried out His mission, and He gave it His authority (Matt 28:18-20 and John 20:21-23). If this Church, under the headship of Peter and his successors, can teach error, she cannot fulfill Our Lord’s mission. If we trust Our Lord, we trust His Church. Even when a Judas may appear, that does not destroy the whole Church. St. Peter is the cornerstone because God has decreed it and we can have faith in the Church because we have faith in Him.

The Second Level: Grace and People of Good Will

That first level means even if we should get a rotten person in there as a Pope, he would be unable to teach error as if it were truth when teaching as Pope. But that is not the only level of protection. God also sends us people of good will, filled with grace to us. People who seek to do God’s will in the role they are in. God has blessed us in recent history in sending us a string of Popes recognized for their wise shepherding and love of Christ.

Being human, they can sin, but loving God and aided by His grace, these people seek to do His will in spite of their sins, repenting when they do sin. They won’t choose to live in a way which contradicts their love of God, even if they choose a means which is different than how you or I would prefer to do it.

Remember, even when God says “You shall do this,” there can be different methods of carrying it out faithfully. If method A or B both carry out God’s command, it is unjust to say a person does wrong if he chooses to do method B.

That’s ultimately what we have today. The Pope is saying, “Let’s try B,” and people used to A are upset.

Basically, the reaction today is this: There are some Catholics, claiming to be good Catholics who deny that the Pope is a person of good will and operating under the Grace of God because He uses a different approach in being obedient to God.


The thing to remember in all the hype, whether secular media or Catholic media, is that God protects His Church and looks after the Pope . . . even Pope Francis. The Holy Spirit did not take a coffee break in 2013. Sure, he can make administrative errors. Sure he can sin personally. But God protects him through both the charism of the office of the papacy and the personal grace He bestows on Pope Francis.

I have faith in the Church, because I have faith in God.

Monday, March 17, 2014

We Must Be Faithful to Christ

St. Josemaria Escriva, in his work The Forge, had this to say:

460   We are not good brothers to our fellow men if we are not ready to continue behaving correctly, even when those around us may interpret our actions badly or react in an unpleasant manner.

This statement strikes me as I consider the actions reported in the media about the reaction of hostility to the St. Patrick Day parade in New York and Boston.   Political leaders and leading beer companies have announced their boycott of these parades because the leaders will not allow these parades to be hijacked for the purpose of promoting an agenda which runs contrary to what the Catholic Church teaches.  It doesn't matter that those with homosexual orientation are allowed to march -- they (like other groups) simply cannot use the parade to push an agenda -- the media portrays the faithfulness to God as being motivated by hatred... homophobia is the slur used.

It is here that St. Josemaria's quote reminds us of our obligation under the commandment to love our neighbor as ourself. If we would be good brothers to our fellow men, we must continue to behave correctly... This is not merely being civil to those who hate us. We are called to bless those who curse us, so we can't repay evil with evil.   But there is more to it than that.

Behaving correctly also means we must continue to proclaim the message if salvation, warning people that sin exists and that Jesus calls us to repent and turn to Him with our whole heart.  This means when the political, cultural and media elites try to bully and intimidate us to be silent and deny God's teaching, we cannot concede.

If we do, we will have betrayed our fidelity to God.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reflections on the "Helpful" Advice to a "Dying" Church

Following newsfeeds online, I see many editorials talking about how the Church is "dying" and needs to change if it is survive  (By allowing women priests, permitting abortion, contraception and so-called homosexual "marriage.")  Personally, I wonder why these people express such concern.  After all, given that they seem to think we are a misogynistic homophobic institution, you'd think they couldn't wait for us to die.

I suspect that, far from being altruistic, this advice is being made in the same spirit as the pack of wolves suggesting to a flock of sheep that they need to get rid of those burdensome sheepdogs so there can be a dialogue on what to have for dinner.

The imminent demise of the Catholic Church has been announced by many so-called prophets who believe their movement will cause the Church to die.  When the Protestant Revolt began, some of the founders predicted our demise before their challenges in the name of Scripture.  The Enlightenment predicted our demise in the before their challenges in the name of Reason.  Atheists today predict our demise before their challenges in the name of Science.

These challenges however failed to kill us in the past and will not kill us now because the Catholic Church is not an enemy of reason, scripture or science.  Truth does not need to fear truth.  While some may apply erroneous philosophies based on their worldviews and confuse them with the teachings of Reason, Scripture or Science, the fact is their philosophies of interpretation do not accurately attack the Church – basically these attacks are aimed at the wrong target.

Other challenges come from political movements and social revolts.  Communism and Fascism both predicted that Christianity in general and the Church in particular was an archaic relic holding people back, while their movements would provide what the people really needed.  The modern hedonism argues that nobody cares about sexual morality and the Church is stupid/old-fashioned for clinging to teachings they disagree with.

But these movements have fallen or will fall.  Where Fascism was once seen as the wave of the future, it is now recognized as a wrong turn.  Despite the media message which sells sex, the media cannot hide the fact that free sex is a terribly empty thing and that there must be more to life than one night stands.  These movements mislead people.  They do not rest on truth, but rather on desires and fears.

Now these challenges can lead individuals and groups astray of course.  Regions have fallen away from the Church.  Many individuals do indeed reject the Church teachings on subjects based on the slogans of the age.  "Reproductive Freedom" for example.  It is true that the Church in America and Western Europe  are facing these trials.  It is also true that scandals in the media make it appear the Church is crumbling.

But difficulties and attacks and sinful members do not prove the demise of the whole Church.  While these challenges may cause the faithful to suffer and the weak to be led astray, and property to be lost, the Church does not exist for the comfort of her members, the body count in the pews, dollars in the collection basket or popularity with the elites.

Whether or not one accepts her claims or not, the Church exists as the means Christ chose to bring His salvation to the world.  It is true that a bad shepherd in the Church may obscure that message of salvation.  But whether or not this message is popular has no bearing on whether it is true.

If the Church believes what she teaches about her own mission, she cannot change the message of salvation to something more popular.  Why?  Because it is not her message – it is Christ's message.

The Church teaches about herself:

"Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church #86]

Because the Church believes herself obligated to be faithful to Christ, she cannot change her message without being unfaithful to Christ.

Once one realizes that the Church believes this – whether or not they agree with the Church over the truth of her belief – it becomes clear that to say "change or die" is a foolish ultimatum.  We remember Christ's words in Mark 8:36-38

What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.

The Pagan Romans, for example, told the early Christians "Change or Die."  Christians knew it was better to die for the truth than to compromise what they believed.  The Church is still here.  Pagan Rome is a pile of ruins.  We will still be here when this current attack is ruins as well.

As Cardinal Francis George said,

"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history."

That will happen here as well.

We as Catholics believe Christ promised to be with the Church always (Matt 28:20), and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church (Matt 16:18).

People of good will may or not accept what Catholics believe about the relationship of Christ and the Church.  But they should consider this.  If we're wrong we should have collapsed long ago under the weight of sinners inside and persecution outside.  But if we're right, perhaps people should consider the ramifications of that.

But as the teacher of the Law, Gamaliel, pointed out when faced with the Christians:

So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)

If we're right, it means those who oppose her teachings are not fighting a human institution…

…they're fighting God.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Master, Don't You Care if We Drown?

Rembrandt's Storm on the-Sea of Galilee

35 On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, “Let us cross to the other side.”
36 Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him.
37 A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up.
38 Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
39 He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm.
40 Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
(Mark 4:35-40)

One thing which seems to be growing again in the anti-Bishop hysteria in certain segments of the Church is the belief that the Church is falling away into corruption because the Pope, the Curia, the Bishop or the Pastor is doing something the individual dislikes or is failing to do something the individual would prefer to be done.

We see the dissenting priest or nun or politician speaking or acting in a way which is clearly contrary to the teaching of the Church and we panic.  We accuse our leaders of corruption and ask God why He does not do anything to save His Church.  Some have, throughout history, jumped ship believing she is being steered into shipwreck.  Others behave as if God has forgotten us.

Christ's question to His disciples is the same question for us.  "Do we not yet have faith?"

Do we not yet realize that Christ promised to remain with His Church?  Do we not yet realize that Christ promised the gates of Hell would not prevail against it?  Are we so without faith that we think that the ship as she exists is sinking and will be destroyed?

Yes, some clergy, some religious and some laity will fail to do as they ought, doing harm and causing scandal.  Yes we are called to preach the word and correct those in error (lovingly of course) and to pray for those who have fallen astray.  However, the Church is in the hands of Christ who has promised to protect us.  At the moment of his choosing, he will rebuke the wind and the sea, he will rebuke the disobedient and the heretical and the persecutor.

We must never act as if we have nothing to do but lounge around and wait on Christ.  He has given us our task to carry out (Matt 24:46) and we need to keep at it for when he returns.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thoughts on Infallibility (Part IIc): Other Gospel Passages Involving Peter

As I make constant references to past articles in this series, here are the links for your convenience.

  • Part I can be found here
  • Part IIa can be found here
  • Part IIb can be found here


Now that we have discussed Matthew 16, there are other considerations from Scripture to look at about Peter.  Some of them show Peter has an important role.  Others we will look at because it they are commonly used by non-Catholics to challenge the belief in Peter being given headship over the Church established by Christ.

As this article is lengthy in itself, it will merely focus on the Gospel passages, especially those which seem to be misinterpreted or misrepresented when it comes to rejecting the Catholic belief.  Article IId will move on to Acts and the Epistles, where, once Christ has ascended, we see how the Church carries on His teachings through Peter.

The reader is reminded that the parts of article II are not independent, but is essentially a large article broken into parts (otherwise, it would be over 10,000 words in length)

Preliminary Remarks

Some readers may notice I am focusing more on authority rather than on infallibility in this article.  This is because infallibility is necessarily linked to authority which will be bound or loosed in Heaven.  If an error is bound or loosed in Heaven, it indicates that God's authority is behind this error.

Keep in mind that the Early Christians saw the Scriptures of the New Testament as authoritative because of the source (the Apostles, or in the case of Mark and Luke, because they were written by those who knew the Apostles).  Paul, Peter, James, Jude, John, Matthew… their writings were accepted as people who had encountered Christ personally and who taught with authority.  Mark was traditionally held to be written by one who knew Peter personally.  Luke was traditionally held to be one who knew Paul personally.

We recognize that these New Testament writings are inspired and inerrant.  However, we forget the fact that they were held to be important because of who was writing them.

So we have a link: The Apostles were believed to be teaching authentically what was handed to them by Jesus, and when they made decisions (the appointment of Matthias and the Council of Jerusalem), nobody questioned their right to do so.

If God Cannot Err, He Cannot Contradict Himself

At any rate, because of the fact that what Peter binds and looses will be bound and loosed in Heaven, we ought to add a ninth syllogism to consider.

Syllogism #9

  1. [God] is [inerrant] (All [A] is [B])
  2. No [contradictory claims] are [inerrant] (No [C] is [B])
  3. Therefore no [contradictory claims] are from [God] (Therefore no [C] is [A])

Those who disagree with the Catholic understanding of infallibility often argue that since "it doesn't exist, there is no problem," but since we have Jesus' promise directed to Peter, we do have a problem.  Either God protects Peter and his successors from error when teaching or we do have the possibility of God binding and protecting error.  Since we do acknowledge that the Church was protected from error in the case of the canon of Scripture (See article I, syllogism #4), we can see it is not unreasonable for Catholics to believe God protects the Church in other areas in terms of things essential for salvation.

Part I: Do Certain Gospel Verses in Scripture Deny the Primacy of Peter?

(Please note that this article pertains to the Gospels alone.  Passages in Acts (Such as Acts 15) and the Epistles (such as Galatians 2) will come in Article IId.  I haven't overlooked these.  This separation is done to keep these articles from going on too long.)

Did Jesus Revoke His Promise?

So let's look at the allegation that certain passages revoke the promise made to Peter (and a promise was made, to Peter specifically in the second person) in Matthew 16.  I have come across some groups who claim that even if Jesus did make a promise to Peter, Peter's later actions in Scripture show that he lost the rights to this promise.

However, if we accept Syllogism #9, we can't accept this interpretation.  If Jesus, being God (See article IIb Syllogism #8) is inerrant, then for Him to revoke a promise He made would be to contradict Himself.  Was He wrong in making the promise?  Or wrong in revoking it?  Catholics don't believe Christ did revoke His promise to Peter, but those who do claim this need to recognize that a God who does not err does not make promises He is unwilling to keep.

Therefore we need to keep syllogism #9 in mind when looking at the argument against infallibility from Matthew 16:20-23, which reads:

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.

22 Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

23 He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Some have argued that this was a revocation of the promise made to Peter by Jesus (which indicates a promise was indeed made).  However, there are some problems with this.  The first is Syllogism #9 above.  If Jesus made a promise to bind and loose in Heaven what Peter bound and loosed on Earth, then the revocation of this would be a contradiction of this promise.

This is because either Jesus would have erred in making this promise to begin with, or He would have erred in revoking it.  Now, since we accept Jesus is God (See syllogism 8 in Article IIb) and that God cannot err (Syllogism 1 in Article I) it stands to reason that Jesus would not have made the poor judgment of making a promise to Peter and then needing to revoke it.

The second reason is even simpler.  The rebuke makes no mention of a revocation of the promise Christ made.  To claim there was a revocation is simply the insertion of a meaning into the text (eisegesis).  Therefore, these verses cannot be used as evidence to a claim that Christ did so.  The verses simply don't say what people who argue a revocation want them to say.

It seems more probable that the rebuke was over Peter's failure to understand the mission of the Messiah.  The human thinking was of a political messiah who was to right the wrongs in Israel.  God's thinking was of the salvation of the world from their sins.  What sounded horrible to Peter (the crucifixion) was perfectly understandable when one knew God's plan of salvation.

The only way one could try to use this passage against Peter would be if they wanted to claim Peter was making an official Church teaching (which I don't believe is the case).  However, unlike other verses where Peter does make decrees (such as in Acts), in this case, Peter spoke privately with Jesus ("took him aside").  So it seems, again, that this passage does not indicate what certain people claim about it.

Did Peter's Denial Mean The Revocation of Christ's Promise?

That Peter denied Jesus is attested to in all of the Scriptures (see Matt 26:34, Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34, John 13:38).  Peter promised to stay with Jesus even if it meant risking his life.  Jesus foretold that Peter would deny Him.  It turned out that Peter did exactly what Jesus had foretold.

The problem is, to claim that these verses mean Peter lost his right to the promise Peter made is eisegesis, putting a meaning into Scripture which is not present.  Indeed, we see in Luke 22:31-32, that Jesus had something to say to Peter:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you [second person plural] like wheat,

32 but I have prayed that your own faith [second person singular] may not fail; and once you [second person singular] have turned back, you [second person singular] must strengthen your [second person singular] brothers.”

Now, remembering Syllogism #9, it follows that either Jesus contradicts Himself (if the promise to Peter is revoked when Peter denies Jesus) or else Jesus, knowing all the disciples would falter, and that when Peter turned back (the Greek indicates turning from doing wrong, repenting), he was to strengthen (establish, make firm) his brothers.

In other words, Peter has an assignment which anticipates his denial.  To strengthen his brethren once he has turned back.

When we get to John 21, we can see that despite Peter's denial, we have a scene with Jesus and Peter which is touching:

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

16 He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (Jesus) said to him, “Feed my sheep.

18 Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

19 He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Peter is again given the mission to tend Jesus' lambs and sheep.  Given that we are the sheep of His flock, Peter's mission is one of looking after the flock.  It seems to be a necessary element of this commission that Peter must have authority over this flock.  Otherwise, how could Peter tend the sheep?

So it seems that Peter's personal sins did not take away from the task which God had called him to do.

What About The "Dispute over Authority" Verses?

Others point to the dispute among the Apostles as to who was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  They argue that this means that the Apostles were not aware of the primacy of Peter  However, this is to miss the point of these readings.  This was not about authority over the Church on Earth, but over privileges when Christ came into power.  Like Peter in Matthew 16:21-23, they couldn't fully grasp the idea that Christ's kingdom was not a political kingdom on Earth.

The dispute among the Apostles seems to have been set off by James and John and their mother, who asked for a special favor in Matthew 20:

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached him with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.

21 He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

22 Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.”

23 He replied, “My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left (, this) is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers.

25 But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt.

26 But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;

27 whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.

28 Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (See also, Mark 10:35-44)

What we have here is not a denial of authority in the Church, but an insistence on what this authority is for.  James and John wanted special privileges when Jesus came in His glory.  Jesus made clear that the one who would lead would do so as service to the whole, and not as a  position of privilege.  The Catholic Church recognizes this, in one of the titles of the Pope, which is Servant of the Servants of God.  We see the Pope as having a ministry which looks out for the good of the Church in the role of the shepherd, and not as some sort of monarch living off of his subjects.  The fact that some have not lived up to this does not take away from the intent Christ has called those who would shepherd to observe.

Part II:The Relationship of Jesus and Peter in Scripture

The next section is to look at the relation of Christ to Peter in the Gospel accounts.  We have Matthew 16 which gives us the promise, but how did the actions in Scripture show this?  Some may not be too impressed by this section.  However, as I mentioned in Article IIb, we are looking at the Scriptures as data.  How was Peter involved in the ministry of Christ?  Do we see any prominence in Peter's actions among the twelve?

These are all things which make sense when one accepts the claim that Peter was made the head of the Church, but seem somewhat random if one rejects this.

First in the Lists

First we need to notice the prominence of Peter in all the lists of the Apostles.  While in all the lists, ten of them are given in various sequences, Peter is always placed first and Judas is always placed last.  Judas being placed last is pretty obvious.  As the betrayer of Christ, he would not be seen as equal to the others.  Yet Peter is always first.  Not James (which would seem likely if it was James who was head of the Church as some seek to argue).  Nor is it John, the Beloved Disciple.  James and John are considered important of course and play important roles in the Gospels… but are usually mentioned with Peter, with Peter mentioned first.

So the person who would deny the primacy of Peter would need to explain this curious fact, as to why all four Gospels mention Peter first.

Peter the Spokesman

We also need to recognize that when it came to the actions of the Apostles, it was mostly Peter who spoke for the Apostles (See Matt 15:15, 16:23, 18:21, 19:27, Luke 12:41, John 6:68 for example).  Now 18th century Protestant commentator Matthew Henry wrote:

Peter’s temper led him to be forward in speaking upon all such occasions, and sometimes he spoke well, sometimes amiss; in all companies there are found some warm, bold men, to whom a precedency of speech falls of course; Peter was such a one: yet we find other of the apostles sometimes speaking as the mouth of the rest; as John (Mk. 9:38), Thomas, Philip, and Jude, Jn. 14:5, 8, 22.

However, this isn't really the case.  It's inserting meaning which assumes the denial of the primacy of Peter and seeks to justify this assumption.  First, the invocation of Peter's personality is something Henry is putting into Scripture (eisegesis).  Second, the other cases indicate they were speaking for themselves, whereas Peter asks questions like "Do you intend this parable for us…?"

Peter the Second In Command

I always found this section striking from Matthew 17:

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes,” he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?”

26 When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt.

27 But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.”

First of all, the collectors went to Peter, which seems to indicate that there was some purpose to approaching him, instead of Jesus, and instead of one of the others among the twelve.  Second, that Jesus had a miracle pay the tax not just for Jesus, but for Peter too.  However, not for the other eleven.  There seems to be the demonstration of a link between Jesus and Peter not necessarily present with the other eleven.

Now some have claimed it was because it was Peter's house that he was approached.  However, we need to consider something here.  All males 20 and older were obligated to pay the Temple Tax when enrolled in the census, as we see in Exodus 30:

11 The LORD also said to Moses,

12 “When you take a census of the Israelites who are to be registered, each one, as he is enrolled, shall give the LORD a forfeit for his life, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered.

13 Everyone who enters the registered group must pay a half-shekel, according to the standard of the sanctuary shekel, twenty gerahs to the shekel. This payment of a half-shekel is a contribution to the LORD.

14 Everyone of twenty years or more who enters the registered group must give this contribution to the LORD.

15 The rich need not give more, nor shall the poor give less, than a half-shekel in this contribution to the LORD to pay the forfeit for their lives.

16 When you receive this forfeit money from the Israelites, you shall donate it to the service of the meeting tent, that there it may be the Israelites’ reminder before the LORD, of the forfeit paid for their lives.”

So, all the twelve were obligated to pay, and about a month before Passover, there were moneychangers throughout Israel according to some sources who would exchange the foreign coins for the shekel (the tax seems to have been paid at the Temple, but since the shekel was not used for ordinary [civil] transactions (see Matt. 22:19), it appears it was a special coin for religious purposes and transactions [See John 2:15]). 

Jews who were residents and visitors both could make use of the service, so mere residency seems not to apply.  Yet the question was only asked about Jesus, and Jesus provided the coin needed to pay for Him and Peter. Remember, Peter's brother Andrew (Luke 6:14) and his partners in fishing James and John (Luke 5:10) also lived in the area (and thus would fit under the residence question), and some have alleged that it was James, not Peter, who was head of the Church in light of Acts 15.  Yet they did not go to James, a fellow Apostle and partner of Peter in the fishing enterprise.

So, the questions are: If one denies a special role for Peter, then why did the collectors go to Peter with the question?  Why did Jesus include Peter with Himself when it comes to paying the tax but not the other apostles?

Jesus' Visiting Peter after the Resurrection

Another interesting fact was shown in Luke 24:

33 So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them

34 who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”

35 Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

While we do not have an account of what Jesus said to Peter, I find it notable that Peter was one of the first (since we do not know whether Jesus appeared to Peter before, after or at the same time He was present with the two disciples) to see the risen Lord.

Taken by itself, perhaps one could shrug it off and say "Who knows what God was thinking?"  However, God does not act randomly, even if we may not be able to comprehend the mind of God.  When we consider what Jesus has said to Peter in Luke 22:31-32, it seems this is not merely a throwaway incident.

It is not enough to argue a possible alternate interpretation.  One could argue a possible alternate explanation with space aliens.  The issue is, on what basis is this alternate explanation held?


Each individual piece, taken in isolation could be given an alternate explanation.  However, when taken as a whole, it becomes much more like obstinacy to deny that Peter had a role given to him by Christ to tend His sheep, and strengthen his brethren.

In the next article (IId), I intend to look at the role of Peter in Acts and in the Epistles.  Jesus has ascended to Heaven.  How does Peter act then?

Hopefully, after IId, I will be done with Peter and Scripture, and ready to move on to what Christ had to say about His Church itself in Article III.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Christ is the Physician, We Are The Sick

30 The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.

32 I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

I think one of the things Christians need to keep in mind is that, when Christ says He has not come to call the righteous but the sinners, we must recognize we are the sinners who need Him, and not the perfect who are already worthy as they are.  We may be tempted to think we are righteous, but we are not.

All of us are tainted by the effects of original sin, and by the sinful acts we do of our own choosing.  In some cases, it may be easy to see.  The tax collectors realizes he is a sinner and prays for forgiveness (see Luke 18:13).  In other cases it is not easy to see.  The self-righteous instead boasts before God (Luke 18:11-12).

The False Dichotomy

We unfortunately have the tendency to create a false either-or situation in our minds:

  1. If I am [a good person] I will not be [like this tax collector]. (If [A] then [B])
  2. I am not [like this tax collector] (not [B])
  3. Therefore I am [a good person] (Therefore [A])

The problem of course is that just because we may not be "like this tax collector" does not make us a good person.  In other words, if we use Hitler as the standard of evil, we all look good in comparison but if Hitler is not the standard of evil, but rather one example of evil, we may find that none of us can take a righteous attitude in what we do.

"Bad News Boys…"

There is an old joke which runs as follows:

A priest was hearing confessions for a mining camp.  The first miner walks in and the priest asks him to confess his sins.

The miner scratches his head and says "Well I don't know… I never killed anyone."

The exasperated priest tells him, "Get out of here and make an examination of conscience!"

The miner exits and sees the line of miners waiting for their turn.  "Go home boys!  He's only taking murderers today!"

Now of course, the priest was not only hearing the confession of murderers.  Rather he was telling the miner to consider what he had done or failed to do which needed reconciliation with God, and not judge himself in comparison to murderers.

Yet too often, we look at our relation with God with the consideration of what we haven't done compared to others… not in the sense that they have done more out of love for God in comparison to ourselves but rather that we haven't acted as bad as them, so we must be good.

We should remember Psalm 50:

7 “Listen, my people, I will speak; Israel, I will testify against you; God, your God, am I.

8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, nor for your holocausts, set before me daily.

9 I need no bullock from your house, no goats from your fold.

10 For every animal of the forest is mine, beasts by the thousands on my mountains.

11 I know every bird of the heavens; the creatures of the field belong to me.

12 Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for mine is the world and all that fills it.

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?

14 Offer praise as your sacrifice to God; fulfill your vows to the Most High.

15 Then call on me in time of distress; I will rescue you, and you shall honor me.”

16 But to the wicked God says: “Why do you recite my commandments and profess my covenant with your lips?

17 You hate discipline; you cast my words behind you!

18 When you see thieves, you befriend them; with adulterers you throw in your lot.

19 You give your mouth free rein for evil; you harness your tongue to deceit.

20 You sit maligning your own kin, slandering the child of your own mother.

21 When you do these things should I be silent? Or do you think that I am like you? I accuse you, I lay the charge before you.

The Other Side of the Coin

On the other side of this coin is the claim that because we aren't doing any worse than anyone else, we are fine as we are.  God has commanded in Exodus 23:2  Neither shall you allege the example of the many as an excuse for doing wrong (in other translations it can be rendered You shall not follow a multitude to do evil).  In the New Testament, Jesus says in Luke 17:

8 If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire.

9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.

Going along to get along is not what we are to do.  Christ makes use of some graphic imagery to show the lengths we are to take to avoid sin.  If we would not cut off our foot or gouge out our eye, should we not take steps to avoid sin?  If "the crowd" embraces sin as good, ought we not to avoid "the crowd" when it seeks to lead us to do evil?

Neither can we appeal to the bad example of those who do not practice what they preach.  Jesus, in Matthew 23 says in verses 2-3, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.

Are there individual priests and even bishops who fail to behave as they ought?  Indeed there are, and they will answer for the things they will not repent of.  For Christ says in Luke 17: 1-2, "Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur.  It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin."

However, the personal sins of an individual priest or bishop do not justify our own sins.  Nor does it justify the disobedience of the Church in one area because a priest or bishop is disobedient in another.

Completing the Circle

Thus we can see that both the disdaining of others while ignoring our own sins, and the thinking we are no worse than others so our sins don't matter are attitudes which contradict the teachings of Christ.  He has come to call the sinners, not the righteous.  If we think we are good because we are "not like them" or if we think we are good because we "only do what everyone else is doing," we are behaving self-righteously, and refusing to let Jesus, the Divine Physician, heal our infirmities.

So let us cease to think of ourselves as some sort of "elect" who have it made, and instead recognize we are sinners who daily must rely on Christ to strengthen and sustain us.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

On Pharisee Mentality

One temptation which always follows behind the Christian trying to be faithful is the mentality of the Pharisee.  Since I'm not afflicted by it, I'll write this to help those of you who are…

Ha, ha.  Actually, this is one of the first symptoms of it: To look at others faults and failings while being blind to your own.  Jesus warned us all about this type of thinking, in Matthew 7:

3 Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?

4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye?

5 You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

It is a strong indictment which any one of us can be guilty of.  Jesus speaks quite strongly about this: It is hypocrisy to look down on others who sin while forgetting our own guilt before Him.  Now of course He doesn't mean we can't call any action evil or wrong.  That's an old deception which is aimed at us to overlook the fact that we are sinners ourselves when we look down on others for being in a state of sin.  If we realize our own need for Christ, we ought to recognize others are seeking Christ as well.  They might be further away from Christ to be sure.  However, they also might be closer because they recognize their own sin and need for salvation.  Christ has said in Matthew 21:

28 “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’

29 He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.

30 The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.

31 Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.

32 When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

It is a paradox which can drive a person crazy.  "Hey!  I'm following all the rules here, but you're saying these people who do all these evil things are closer to God than ME?"  Yet, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).  The one who knows that God is holiness, is goodness and looks at their life compared to the holiness of God will see their own life lacks in comparison to what God asks of us.

It doesn't even mean we need to act like one of those cretins who show up at the funerals of AIDS victims with signs saying the deceased is going to Hell to be acting in a way which Christ calls wrong.  All we need to do is to act as if we are superior to others in how we live, as Christ teaches in Luke 18:

10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.

11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.

12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee is proud of his actions, and forgets he is also a sinner who needs the mercy of Christ.

So I hope I set you all straight with that splinter.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go lie down and take some aspirin or something to deal with the pain.  The optometrist has said it might be caused by this beam I have in my eye... but what would he know? 


Monday, June 7, 2010

Lord, To Whom Should We Go? Reflections on Mistrusting the Church

66 As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69).


There are times when those who should be defending the Faith strongly seem to give up too easily or express themselves poorly.  There are those in the Church who seem to have fallen into obstinacy or error.  At times like this, I have people ask me why I remain in the Catholic Church instead of go elsewhere.

Some who ask are the typical Anti-Catholics seeking to persuade me.  Some are co-religionists who have lost their faith themselves and are looking for a new place to satisfy them (such as the SSPX or the Eastern Orthodox churches).  In doing so, they point to the scandals within the Church and the (perceived) lack of scandals in these other places.

Some argue that the existence of scandals proves the Catholic Church never was the Church established by Christ to begin with.  Others claim that whether or not it once was, it no longer is.

The reason I remain unconvinced by such arguments is not that I have faith in men, but because I put my faith in Christ.

Reflections on Matthew 28 and Matthew 16

In Matthew 28, Christ tells His disciples:

18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,

20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

"The end of the age" in Greek is συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος. (sunteleias tou aiōnos) which does not mean merely a finite period and then expires, but refers to the full completion of making the disciples of all nations.  So in other words, Christ will not abandon them to be defeated.  He is not merely sitting up in Heaven watching things fall apart.

Matthew 16 tells us:

18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

When Scripture speaks of the gates of Hell (in Greek: πύλαι ᾍδου or pulai Haidou) it is not merely referring to death as a natural end.  Sin and death are equated in Scripture, and the Gates of the underworld/Hades/Hell are often viewed as a sort of prison in which the wicked are contained.  This is not merely a Christian view.  πύλαι ᾍδου has been understood in this sense with the Odyssey, in Aeschylus, and in Euripides.

So it seems if Christ has promised he would be with the Disciples συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος and that the πύλαι ᾍδου will not prevail against it, then the Church He intended to build would not have the gates of Hell prevail against it and He would not forsake it.

If He broke either promise, it would seem to follow He either did not speak truthfully (and thus could not be God) or else did not have the power to back up His words (and thus could not be God).  I suspect the atheist or non-Christian reader would have no problem with the claim that Jesus would not be God, but for the Christian [one who believes Christ is God], this is not an option.  So when it comes to looking for the Church which Christ willed, the Christian must keep this in mind.

What this Church cannot be

First of all, the Church cannot be some sort of "invisible body of Christians."  We must recognize that Christ has spoken about it in a way that indicates it is visible and noticeable:

14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.

15 Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.

16 Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Christians are not to have a private faith which does not affect anything in the real world.

Nor can the Church be a mere gathering of believers without authority.  Christ has indicated there is a place where the final line is drawn:

15 “If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.

16 If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

18 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.  (Mt 18:15-18)

There may indeed be disputes between Christians over what is right and just.  However, once the Church speaks, there is no further appeal.  So we see that the true Church cannot be autocephalous or invisible.  We must need to know where to go and that we cannot merely go elsewhere if we don't like what the Church has to say.

Moreover we can see that the idea of a divided Church cannot be Christ's will either.  At the Last Supper, he prayed:

11 And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are. (John 18)

Indeed, Paul warned of the factions which divide as well.  In speaking of those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God, Paul lists factions among others (See Galatians 5:20)


So to sum up some things we know of the Church established of Christ:

  1. Christ promised to be with it always
  2. Christ promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against it
  3. Christ said it must be visible to all and be for all (not merely for a certain ethnicity)
  4. Christ said it must be heeded
  5. Christ did not wish factions, and St. Paul listed those who make factions as those who will not inherit the Kingdom.

So if we as Christians believe that Christ is God and does not lie, then it seems to follow that the Church He established exists in some place, and has existed continuously since the time of the Apostles.

I believe this Church is the Catholic Church.

I don't doubt that many (perhaps even most) of my readers will disagree with me on this, but this is where I stand.  This is why I do not find my faith shaken even when someone brings up Scandal X or some bishop saying something stupid.

I trust that God protects the Church from formally teaching error.  Some who dissent may err.  I believe that staying with the ship rather than abandoning it is to do as God wills.

(The 1935 comic by David Low isn't a religious comic, but I find the image to be quite representative)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jesus Died The Apostles Lied? A Look At Another Claim Against the Resurrection

Preliminary Note

This article is dealing with the claim the Apostles lied about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Those who think I am overlooking the concept the Apostles were deluded should see the article HERE where I discussed some issues.

Looking at the Claim that the Apostles Lied

A theory given by certain cynical individuals runs along these lines: Jesus died, and the Apostles deliberately claimed Jesus rose from the dead while knowing He did not.  These individuals will argue that because Miracles cannot happen and it is not probable that it was a delusion, it is most likely the work of a deliberate deception.

I find this theory interesting because many of those I have encountered who use it argue that the people of the Middle East in the First Century AD were so primitive that they believed some (hitherto unexplained) scientific phenomenon was a miracle.

Yet for this belief to have continued on for two thousand years, it's not enough to claim over a billion stupid people to explain this.  To continue fooling people (including individuals who are intelligent), the people who created such a deception would have to be quite brilliant in order to create something that people would die for or radically change their life for and never be detected as false.

So the question arises, if we are to consider the charge of deception: Were the apostles stupid and superstitious peasants?  Or were they evil masterminds who perpetuated a fraud which lasts until this very day?  They couldn't be both.

What The Resurrection Means.  What Apostle Means.

We need to be clear about what this allegation means.  Unlike certain wishy-washy Christians who try to reduce the Resurrection to some sort of "feeling" that Jesus' teachings would live on, the Christian belief is that Jesus was literally executed by the Romans and rose from the dead.

The Apostles were those who witnessed the risen Christ and testified they saw Him.

Therefore, when dealing with the idea that the Apostles lied, it means they did not see the risen Christ, yet claimed they did see Him.

I've dealt with Deluded Apostles already, so now we need to consider the option of them not being fools, but knaves who deliberately created a lie which led thousands of people to martyrdom.

Considering Some Objections To This Concept

If we are to give the "conspiracy to lie" theory any credibility, it needs to provide the evidence to back up what was asserted in its claim.  The basic idea is that the Apostles knew Jesus died, but said He rose again contrary to what they knew.  However, there are several problems such a theory needs to address.

Let's consider the following:

1) Cui bono?  (Who benefits?)  If the Apostles deliberately lied, what did they hope to gain from it?  We have no evidence that any of the Apostles recanted what they believed.  They were tortured and reviled for what they preached.  Nor do we have any evidence of the apostles receiving material gain.  They were not wealthy men who stayed at home while exhorting followers to provide their every need and luxury.  They travelled and died in areas all over the Roman Empire preaching this doctrine.  Such a devotion does not sound like a fraud.

I have run across some who have tried to say that yes, the apostles lied but dying for a lie was not unreasonable because "who know what religious fanatics are thinking?"  This is a contradiction in terms however.  If the apostles believed what they taught to the point it encouraged "fanaticism" in them, then clearly it was not a lie which they fabricated.  If it was a lie, it could not encourage religious fanaticism in the people who knew it was a lie.  If someone else, other than the apostles invented this lie, where are the objections from those who knew differently?

2) The unanimity of the Apostles on the subject.  As I said above, the Apostles didn't just remain in one place.  They travelled widely in spreading the Gospel message.  Now in the days without immediate communication, they could have gone far and wide and questions asked by the people preached to would doubtlessly have gone beyond what the Apostles could anticipate for a fabrication they worked out on their own.  if they lied about Christ, one would expect a deviation of facts in the stories told as each Apostle had to improvise.

Instead we have a largely consistent agreement on the facts.  The different accounts have some variations, but only on small details and are consistent with individuals emphasizing what stuck most in their mind.  Scriptures remain very consistent across wide areas of the empire… we need to remember that before the days of the printing press, all copies were made by hand.  On occasion we see copyist errors, but no divergence on the message itself.

3) The Sincerity of the Apostles.  This is the flip side of #1 above.  We all know of those false religions where the founders gained materially from the religion they started.  Even in Christianity, we know of individuals who have abused their ministry for personal gain.  Did the founders of the religion do these things however?

However, the Apostles did not act for material gain.  They travelled, preached and eventually died because they believed what they taught was of vital importance for everyone.  Consider the words of Philippians 1:

19 Yes, and I shall rejoice. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Disagree with Paul if you like, call him insane if you like, but this is a man who believes that to live is a mission to serve Christ and to die is to gain by being with Him forever.

5) The Body of Jesus would be a very permanent way to disprove the conspiracy.  If Jesus was still in the tomb, why was it not produced to prove them liars?  If it was no longer in the tomb, how did it leave the tomb?  Are we to believe a band of Jesus' followers who were in hiding snuck past armed guards and moved a large rock, stealing the body without a trace?  Would the Romans have tolerated such a lawbreaking on their watch.

Since the Apostles proclaimed the message of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, those who wanted to disprove Jesus would have been in a good position to do so.  Their adversaries would have been in position to root them out and disprove them by showing discrepancies from the witnesses who saw Christ.

The Lacking Piece of the Puzzle

The accusation that the apostles must have lied either requires being backed by evidence or else is based on a prior conviction that it could not have been true and therefore must have had another cause.

However evidence that the apostles lied is lacking, and the behavior of the apostles seems to indicate that they believed they had seen Jesus alive.  Considering the challenges against Christianity revolve around demanding physical proof for spiritual things, one would think it reasonable to insist on physical proof for assertions of a physical explanation.

Because evidence is lacking to prove any such point, it is not reasonable to claim that the apostles must have lied.  One is still free to believe it of course, but it must be recognized that such a belief is merely a personal opinion.

This is not the Argument from Silence fallacy.  Christians don't argue "You can't prove [A], therefore [B]."  They believe the witness of the Apostles was credible, while the claims against are not credible.  Anyone wishing to credibly argue otherwise needs to demonstrate why their own claims are believable and those of the Apostles are not.

However, instead of providing this credibility, the attacks I have seen all revolve around "it's impossible, so there must be another reason for it."  This assumes as proven however what needs to be proved (that it is impossible).  Neither I nor any other Christian are irrational for refusing to accept a claim which has no more basis than personal opinion that miracles are impossible.

"More Probable"?

Now, if one wishes to show misrepresentation, one must remember certain things must be demonstrated under law.  I find those guidelines useful to assess what needs to be proven with this claim:

  1. What was said was a deliberate misrepresentation of facts.
  2. An intentional, or fraudulent, misrepresentation occurs when a defendant knows that he or she is making a false statement of material fact.
  3. the defendant intended for the plaintiff to rely on the false statement.
  4. the plaintiff ordinarily needs to prove that he or she justifiably relied on the defendant’s statement
  5. Finally, the plaintiff must show that he or she was injured as a result of the misrepresentation.

Since a lie is defined as an intentionally false statement, the charge of the lie is to say two things: that the statement made was false, AND that the false statement was made deliberately.

So, first of all someone who would accuse the apostles of misleading others needs to prove that what they said was a deliberate misrepresentation.  Second, that the apostles knew they were making such a statement.  Third, that the apostles intended those they preached to would rely on their claims.  Fourth, that the ones preached to were justified in relying on what the apostles said.  Finally that the believers were injured by the misrepresentation.

Points 3, 4 and 5 rely on points one and two being established as true.  So, to claim a lie, the statemtn that Jesus rose from the dead needs to be shown to be a deliberate misrepresentation, and the Apostles need to be shown as knowing the statement was false.

Unless those points are proven, the claim that the Apostles lied is a merely a statement with no basis in fact.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Considering the Charge of Delusion and Resurrection Accounts

The account of the Resurrection is ultimately the center of the Christian faith.  As St. Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:

14 if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

Because of this, those who would deny the teaching of Christians and wish to refute it need to attack the teaching and try to prove a claim that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Two Categories for Charges

In looking at these charges, we need to consider their basis.  Why should we accept them as credible?  The possibilities are:

  1. Either they are based on evidence
  2. Or they are based on the assumption the supernatural cannot happen

Accusations based on the first category do need to be addressed.  Avoiding this can make it seem like we live our faith in ignorance.  However, accusations based on the second assumption are guilty of begging the question.  The claim that the supernatural cannot happen is something to be proven, not assumed to be true.

The Focus of This Article

For the purposes of this article, I am limiting myself to two possibilities: That Jesus died but did not rise again, and that Jesus did not die, but everyone believed He did.  I am quite aware there are other claims made, but let's keep things manageable.

Now, there are two basic possibilities to explore with this objection: One, the claims of Jesus dying but not rising and Two, the basis of Jesus not dying to begin with.  The underlying association for both is that the Apostles were mistaken in what they believed.

The first claim tends to run under the following syllogism

  1. The dead cannot live again
  2. Jesus was dead
  3. Therefore Jesus cannot live again

The second set runs under the following syllogism:

  1. The dead cannot live again
  2. The apostles saw Jesus alive
  3. Therefore he had not died

Enthymemes Assumed But Not Proven

In both cases the major premise needs to be proven.  This is something which has never quite been proven, and those who argue it tend to hedge their words in phrases like "it is more reasonable to suppose that…"  Ultimately in these disputes, there is usually an enthymeme (a premise assumed but not spoken) which demonstrates the principle issue to be considered.

In disputes with atheists, this is a dispute over whether an all powerful God exists.  If an all powerful God exists, then there is no reasonable argument that such a God could not raise the dead.

In disputes with religious or spiritual beliefs, the principle dispute is over the authority of Christ and whether God would have raised Jesus from the dead.  If Jesus Christ did have authority, then His resurrection is not against what God would do.

Ultimately, such disputes need to address the primary assumption (that God does not exist or that Jesus Christ was not His Son) before moving on to the actual debate of the Resurrection.  However, it is commonly assumed by those who reject the Christian belief that their view is true, and the attacks are focused on the claim that their beliefs are the reasonable ones and those which disagree are not.

The conclusion of their argument is that since they believe it impossible that Jesus was raised from the dead, it is more reasonable to explain the Apostles claim with another cause.

The Hallucination Theory

The Hallucination theory is based on the idea that if someone thought they saw a man known dead walking around it is more probable that the person hallucinated.  This seems to assume Hume's theory.  There are several objections however which this theory requires an answer to if it is to be considered reasonable:

Hallucinations are things which happen to individuals.  It is true that a group of people might see an object and not understand what it was, but we would see large discrepancies in testimony because each individual would be interpreting this in their own mind.  However, we see that the testimony of scripture attests to Christ being seen by Mary Magdalene, the disciples sans Thomas, the disciples with Thomas, the disciples in Emmaus, the apostles fishing, etc. 

Hallucinations tend to last for seconds or minutes.  The Christian claim is that Christ was among the apostles for 40 days.

Hallucinations do not interact with the world.  Yet the account is that Christ did interact with the world.  Thomas touched the wounds in his side, Christ ate with his apostles.

If the apostles were hallucinating, where was the actual body which could have proven their claims were false?  If the Sanhedrin wished to stop a delusion from going around all they would have to do is to produce the corpse of Jesus.

From this we have two considerations:

    1. Either the sources are inaccurate or
    2. The sources accurately attested to the fact that the Apostles saw something consistently

However, if the sources are to have been considered inaccurate, the question must be asked: On what basis can we make this claim?  What we have is an idea which rejects the testimony because the accounts contain miracles.  If this is to stand, then a valid disproof of the existence of the miraculous needs to be given.

Instead, this theory tends to reject all testimony which runs counter to the assumption that a miracle did not happen.  This is not reasonable however.  Without evidence to support the theory there is no reason to hold it as what did happen or was more likely to happen.

The "Jesus Did Not Die" Theory

The empty tomb is a hard thing to answer.  The Romans could not produce a body.  The Jews could not produce a body, and if Jesus was executed, the claim of the Resurrection could have been immediately shot down by showing his corpse.

Because of this, some people try to argue that Jesus was not really killed.  Now, to deny He was not executed is not reasonable (though the Koran [Sura 4:157-8] claims this) because even non-Christian sources attest He had been killed by the Romans.  The Roman historian Tacticus in his Annals, the Babylonian Talmud, the Greek Satirist Lucian, the Syrian stoic Bara Bar-Serapion and  Jewish historian Josephus (Though some references to the divinity of Christ are considered latter additions.  However, even with those removed, it attests to His being crucified) all report he had been executed.  So to argue He was never crucified requires some evidence to what actually did happen to him.

Given the crucifixion was a horrendous and disgraceful way to die, it is unlikely the Scripture writers would have chosen to invent this account of the death of their founder if a more "respectable death" had existed.

Because of this, some try to allege that Jesus was crucified and was presumed dead, but He later regained consciousness and escaped.

Now there are some very real problems with this assumption which need to be answered before it can be considered as anything more than idle speculation:

1) Jesus surviving the crucifixion needs to account for the fact that the Romans made sure a person was dead before removing him from the cross.  Soldiers who permitted a condemned man to escape would pay for it severely.

The fact that the soldiers broke the legs of the other prisoners crucified to hasten their death shows they were determined to make sure the prisoners were in fact dead.  Jesus, being seen to be dead, did not have His legs broken to be sure.  However He had a spear thrust into his side (see John 19:31ff), which shows the Romans left nothing to chance.

2) The spear thrust, described in John 19:34 attests to the flow of blood and water which, in medical terms meant Jesus' lungs had collapsed and indicate He died of asphyxiation (the normal method of death on the cross) [See here for an interesting medical description.  See here to go to the beginning of the report.  The JAMA issue it appeared in can be purchased here].

3) The body was totally encased in winding sheets and entombed (John 19:38-42).  Claims he had merely lost consciousness need to explain how those who wrapped Him did not notice He was still breathing and also need to explain how He was not constricted and suffocated if wrapped when unconscious.

4) The accounts of the Resurrection convinced the Apostles He was gloriously alive, not half dead and injured (remember, assumptions that Jesus had regained consciousness and staggered back to the Apostles still have to account for the Roman practices of crucifixion).  Would the Apostles seeing a half dead man think He had risen from the grave?  Or would they have assumed He had merely escaped death?

5) How did a half dead man escape from the tomb, which was sealed and guarded?  Who moved the stone? (a half dead man could not)  If the apostles aided Him, it follows that they knew the truth and lied about it, which shoots down the idea of "sincere but deluded" and takes us back to the idea of "what did the apostles gain for lying?"  Moreover, if the Apostles overpowered the soldiers why were they not considered yet one more band of armed revolutionaries (which no document of the time alleges)?

6) If Jesus was alive and escaped, where did He go?  There are no credible documents of this.  Accounts of this type fall into categories of "pseudo-history" such as Holy Blood, Holy Grail and the like, not serious documents.  We again would move away from the "sincere but deluded" apostles and into the "willful fraud."

Such arguments in favor of the "unconscious Jesus" theory has to presuppose the inaccuracy of the texts, which requires proof if it is to be taken as anything other than idle speculation.

The Underlying Problem with the "Sincere But Deluded" Arguments

Whether one believes Jesus died and the Apostles were deluded about the belief He rose again or whether one believes Jesus never died to begin with, a crucial element is missing: evidence.

The Christian believes the testimony of the apostles to be reliable, that the apostles did encounter the Risen Christ and this encouraged them to preach their message to the world, even at the cost of their lives.  On the other hand, the person who denies this insists on another meaning and tends to call the Christians foolish for believing the testimony of the Apostles.

However, we are not unreasonable in asking "On what basis do you make your claims?"  If one wishes to assert that the accounts of the Resurrection are false, we must require evidence that backs up their claims.  To merely argue…

  1. [Miracles] cannot [happen] (No [A] is [B])
  2. The [Resurrection] was a Miracle ([C] is a part of [A])
  3. Therefore the [Resurrection] could not have [happened] (Therefore [C] is not part of [B])

…requires proof of the major premise or proof that the accounts of the death and resurrection of Christ were not accurate (which does not establish that miracles can't happen but seeks to deny it happened in this case).

Otherwise the claim is not reasoned, but merely an opinion without backing.

A Caveat

I do not make the argument that because there is no proof for these claims that it automatically means the opposite (the Resurrection happened) is true.  This would be the Argument from Silence fallacy (There is no proof for [A], therefore [B] is true).  Certainly there are many studies about the Scriptural accounts which need to be considered, and people who wish to study the Christian claims need to look at.

However, in all these cases, we need to recognize that presupposing that something can't be true is going to lead to pre-determined conclusions.  if the presumption is false, the conclusion cannot be said to be proven true. 

Most Christians do not accept Tertullian's maxim I believe because it is absurd.  Most believe because they find the testimony credible and the arguments against lacking credibility (this is not addressing the gift of faith of course, which is not apart from reason).  Christian apologetics are based on showing the credibility of the beliefs of Christianity.

If one wishes to deny the beliefs of Christianity, it is their right of course.  However, we are not being unreasonable in requiring the basis on which the rejection is made and assessing such claims.