Saturday, July 26, 2008

On heroes and being blessed by mountaintops

This morning I am gripped by the metaphor of mountains. They are not only awe-inspiring, they speak to many elements of human existence.

I saw these mountains last winter, and they still invoke emotion as I remember them (and I hope to see them again in the near future!).

As we go through life we are climbing through ideas, hoping we are not lost and going the right way. But how do we know which way to go?

At the "peak" of my thinking as a Protestant (in terms of consistency, not lucidity or genius), I came to a point where several friends either jumped off this peak or stayed to brave the winds of isolation.

In thinking that my thinking was the key for me to find truth, that there was no truly faithful interpreter of scripture, life, etc., I had to say that whenever I was not in full agreement with someone on a matter that I had thought through, if I was not persuaded by their arguments I had to conclude that that person failed the test of being a hero of mine. I would come to realize that as many Christians climbed up a broad based mountain, the higher we traveled the more we diverged. We would climb and say hello as we went, but as the issues became thornier, the "one" mountain turned out to be more of a range, with many jagged peaks that ultimately separated the climbers.

Many who I respect say that this process leads one to have no spiritual heroes, for many of us use our mental powers on our own and find ourselves not quite agreeing with any author who teaches about spiritual truth. They would argue that heroes are for the naive, either implicitly or explicitly.

But I would refuse to give up that there are no heroes, scouring the earth and lamenting that the only real heroes one could have would be those who had great talent in one area of their life, while openly admitting their huge flaws.

In the realm of the arts, for me this has historically included Elvis Presley, Andy Kaufman, Orson Welles, and others. Of course, that is more in the realm of the arts. In the religious world, the story was different. I found myself agreeing more and more with my cynic friends, and thought of some alternatives.

One would be to take the gaps which divide us and try to speak from peak to peak. But just as this is not very practical in the midst of storms full of howling winds, history has shown that divisions cannot be mended by merely speaking up. When the winds do not roar and the air is not full of clouds, sure, there can be some amount of communication. But it's a far cry from the vision of Our Lord, who prayed that we would be one as He and His Father are one (John 17).

Another would be the idea of climbing down from the peak that separated us. Since the progress of defining spiritual issues led us to get separated, why not discard our differences and meet at the common ground of things that unite us? But I realized that
this would not work on its own, because who is to say what is essential to one's faith? Furthermore, I have found that this goes against the basics of human nature. As one example, take baptism. If you have come to be persuaded that children of believers must be baptized to be obedient, how can you throw aside the arguments that got you to thinking that? It would take an unnatural suppression of one's conscience, and leads to such fights as this, where some Reformed Baptists have advocated withholding the Lord's Supper from Presbyterians due to their "sin" of baptizing children. Mind you, this discussion was brought up in the midst of an attempt to be "together for the gospel", and not during some party spirit-based rallying cry for being good Baptists or Presbyterians (or what have you). Ultimately, I cannot see the regression to some "lowest common denominator" as a viable means of the kind of unity in Christ's prayer in John 17.

The only other way to look at the mountain range is to argue that this whole process of separation is fundamentally flawed. What started off as one range has led to a plurality of ranges, some being safe and others being treacherous. This would fit the ideal of Christ's prayer, but it has a problem, namely that one has to figure out which range is correct, and what to do to bring the erring peaks back together again. I would argue that there is only one option that makes historical sense, and it happens to have sincere love for all the ranges, even when they've gone off on tangents. Every other option that advocates this way of thinking leads to a lone peak saying it's the only real mountain. And that is the most unreal option of all.

Every other analysis that is not one of these three is a permutation of one, I would argue. But you could prove me wrong....

Now, all of this comes to mind because I'm reading a book by one of my newly gained spiritual heroes, Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I should have blogged about him before, but that's how life goes. This is what he has to say about the Beatitudes. Interestingly enough, his thoughts also focus on the unity of different mountains which many have also separated artificially.

Think about this quote today, and you will see that this great truth of the unity of mountains as applying not only to the Church, but also to Our Lord's ministry. So many people have separated Christ's death on the Cross from his "merely moral" teachings. Sheen takes the ideal for a holistic view of the world and shows that the same is true of Our Savior. Read Sheen, and be challenged to view the world in the unity that it is based upon:

Two mounts are related as the first and second acts in a two-act drama: the Mount of the Beatitudes and the Mount of Calvary. He who climbed the first to preach the Beatitudes must necessarily climb the second to practice what He preached. The unthinking often say the Sermon on the Mount constitutes the "essence of Christianity". But let any man put these Beatitudes into practice in his own life, and he too will draw down upon himself the wrath of the world. The Sermon on the Mount cannot be separated from His Crucifixion, any more than day can be separated from night. The day Our Lord taught the Beatitudes, He signed His own death warrant. The sound of nails and hammers digging through human flesh were the echoes thrown back from the mountainside where He told men how to be happy or blessed. Everybody wants to be happy; but His ways were the very opposite of the ways of the world.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Did I mention that I love cats?

Thanks, Pearson's.

Note: being the doubting scientist that I am, I want you all to know that has verified this story as true. The part with the "wife" lion had me especially doubtful, but rest assured this is a genuine story!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Gluttony of Worms (and other oddly named provinces)

I am rereading Hilaire Belloc's book How the Reformation Happened. It is so full of facts and statements about a monumental time in history that I think I'll end up reading it at least one more time.

One statement of his is especially true, as I survey my society and its surroundings.

In describing the flaws of those looking back at certain controversies in history, he notes how so few people actually read the texts of the day leading up to the event in question.

To quote Belloc on these historians:
"Again (another grave weakness in his trade), he did not read the key-points: he despised and neglected those writings which would have explained to him the formation of that very culture from which he proceeded."

I think for me a key thing to understand is exactly how Luther interacted with his peers in his day. This letter to Pope Leo X is enough to make one question all of the things that movies and stories of lore have stated about Martin Luther.
It was written in 1518, roughly 1 year from the infamous day when Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. Also keep in mind that no Catholic has accused those theses of being unorthodox. But let's keep our minds back in the 1500s.

I want to point out some key parts of this letter that are particularly poignant to me.

Luther starts off by saying:
To the
Most Blessed Father,
Martin Luther,
Augustinian Friar,
wisheth everlasting welfare.

I have heard evil reports about myself, most blessed Father,
by which I know that certain friends have put my name in very
bad odor with you and yours, saying that I have attempted to
belittle the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff.
Therefore I am accused of heresy, apostasy, and perfidy, and
am called by six hundred other names of ignominy. My ears
shudder and my eyes are astounded.

Note that the claim that the successor of Peter contains a special merit of leadership by having power from the keys handed to him through Christ cannot be an innovation from Vatican I (in the 1800s), as Luther himself is fluent with this idea. Note also his thoughts on the 95 theses--at this point his actions, whatever they were meant to produce, did not include an attack on Rome. They may have had stern words for Tetzel or some local Germans using indulgences for evil purposes, but Luther does not impute this to the Papacy.

Another statement later on in the letter shows me how the common legend that the world was in some sort of blind stupor of allegiance to the Church, with no regard to any corruption of the day, is utterly false. It is commonly said that Luther rang a clarion call against corruption, as though no other human before him had the heart and soul to cry out against corruption. On the contrary, Luther states:

None the less, however, stories about the avarice of the
priests were bruited in the taverns, and evil was spoken of
the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff, and as
evidence of this, I could cite the common talk of this whole

If this were the common talk of the whole land, how could there have been a general blindness to corruption? What was so special about Luther's observations?

At the end, his closing includes these words:

Wherefore, most blessed Father, I cast myself at the feet of
your Holiness, with all that I have and all that I am.
Quicken, kill, call, recall, approve, reprove, as you will. In
your voice I shall recognize the voice of Christ directing you
and speaking in you. If I have deserved death, I shall not
refuse to die.

Again, I am struck by Luther's devotion to the Pope. The key thought that I would ask you to consider and ask yourself is to read the whole letter and ask, what changed? Did he discover that the local corruption led to the root at Rome? Was he fed up with trying to invoke reforms? Was it something else?

It is clear that Luther's thoughts underwent major changes, as did the world at large. Looking more closely at his interaction with the Church leadership, and the thoughts he formulated as he broke away from submission to the Pope may unravel how, in a sense, the Christian world unraveled at the initiation of the Reformation.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The inherent chauvinism of the antipapal mindset

{This is a work in progress}

More thoughts on Saturday's debate....

I was particularly struck by the patent acceptance that the Pauline letters are silent regarding the Pope. First, there should have been a clearer insistence that that says nothing about what we as Catholics think about the Gospels' mention of Peter's role.

Secondly, the more I think about it, the more I cannot blithely accept this premise, that Paul says nothing about the Church's structure. After all, the analogy of the Church as body does include the logical conclusion that there must be a centralized head in the Church.

If one were to only read 1 Corinthians, there would be no question on the matter. Chapter 12 is the most detailed discussion of how the body should not be at war with itself, nor should members denigrate each other.

To quote:

"12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret? 31But eagerly desire[e] the greater gifts. "

Note that Paul points to hypothetical instances of members of the body disregarding each other in disunity, and in mentioning the ear, the eye, and the head, he treats all components (including the head) as though they could be guilty of such a travesty.

If we are to assume that Paul's understanding of the body is a "headless horseman" capped by Christ as head, I would argue that Paul would not have evoked such imagery. He could talk of hands denigrating feet, but not eyes denigrating hands. For that would mean that Christ is sinning by spurning the hands, etc., and how can that be the case?

So we are left with the other passages where Paul DOES describe Christ as the head. What are we to make of these words? First, the Catholic should be quick to agree that of course, He is the Head of all believers, Pope and nun alike.

Secondly, the imagery of Christ as head should never be divorced from other imagery describing our relationship with Him. Indeed, the epistle that is most forceful about Him being the head is one where one cannot surgically separate another relationship. And that epistle would have to be the letter to the Ephesians. There we find the role of Christ as head is intimately united to His position as our divine spouse.

In Ephesians 5, we find this fact clearly delineated.

To quote:
22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."[c] 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

There is something here that I believe our Protestant brethren our overlooking in emphasizing Christ as the Head in passages such as this.

Note what Paul says in verse 23, and consider the fact that this element of Christ as head is compared to the husband as head of the wife.
First, it does evoke the marriage imagery that is strongly described in the Apocalypse of Saint John.
Secondly, note the correlation in terms of the human existence. Do wives submit to husbands as their head in some sort of amorphous body with no mind? I'm sure some married men wish this were the case, but that would be to exist in a loveless relationship. On the contrary, there is the struggle for harmony among two wills, such that while one may be the "lord" of the other, this does not negate the head/mind/will of the bride.

As such, both the use of logic and the fuller analysis of Ephesians leads us to repudiate the visible body of Christ as lacking a visible head. It is only some chauvinistic fancy that would keep us in denial of this reality, if we really consider Paul's usage of the phrase that Christ is the head of the Church in Ephesians 5.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Honor of Honorius

Last night I attended a dinner party for Christians who are interested in unity. The great part about it is that these meetings not based on talking about warm and fluffy things that we have in common. Instead, there is a relatively formal debate on issues that we do not have in common. Last month I attended a debate over whether some sins were mortal and others were venial, which made for some interesting discussion.

But this one had me far more excited at the outset, for it was about a far more central difference between Protestants and Catholics--the primacy and infallibility of the Bishop of Rome.

Biblical, historical, and logical arguments were presented and at some times it was in an unbiblical, ahistorical and illogical manner, but the point is that much controversy ensued. I could say quite a bit about the strengths and weaknesses of both sides throughout this debate, but I'll stick with one criticism from the opening statement of the Anglican minister. This will allow me to stay focused (always a problem for my flitting fancy) and more importantly this criticism of his is the most important way that one would be able to formulate a criticism of Rome's claims about the papacy, in my opinion.

Before I state what was stated, let me relate the actual official statement on infallibility as Roman Catholics understand it:

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" which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

Point #891 states that when the Popes make definitive acts decreeing on matters of faith or morals that he will speak without error.

Point #892 of the catechism also goes on to note that all bishops, not just the Pope, have divine assistance assuring them of being in truth, when they teach in communion with the Pope.

Let's stop and note what it does not say:

It does not confuse the office of Pope with his personal life. That a very small minority of Popes had illegitimate children, were greedy, murderous, etc., says nothing about this matter. Nor does it mean that at no point in their life will they deny Christ, as Peter himself did while Christ was on trial.

It also is not confused into thinking that the Pope will always say the best thing. Their responses to all heresies will not be the most quick-witted or even clearest.

It also narrows the scope of interest to what interests us as Christians-matters of faith and morals.

Instead the guarantee is that the successors of Peter will not teach errors. They will not fail (hence the phrase infallibility) to teach things that should be believed by Christians. Could our understanding get better as time goes on? Yes, and we should growing in the depth and clarity of our love of Our Lord. More importantly, that is exactly what the development of the councils that have occurred in history indicate.

Now, all of this preface is to make sure we are on the same page, so as to not construct any straw men in our argumentation.

Let's now dive into the actual argumentation. As I said, the key way to convince me that these claims are falsified is through historical analysis. The debater last night did invoke such historical analysis in his opening points. What era of Church history was cited? The answer: the monothelitist controversy as it took place in the 600s.

Remember, at 451 the Coptic Church began, as the idea that Christ has two natures was decreed in opposition to them. The Copts decried that as heresy, and essentially the first Protestant Reformation occurred. Their view is that Christ's human nature was subsumed by his divine, thus they are called Monophysites, meaning one nature.

In the 600's, the separation was still on the minds of many Christians (as it should be on our minds today), and some new wording that stated that Christ had just one will was being advocated by some. He may have had two natures, but he had one will. This view is called the monothelite view, as thelos means will in Greek. It was hoped that this would win back the monophysites.

From 625-638, Honorius was the Pope, the bishop of Rome. As mentioned by my Protestant brother, the sixth ecumenical council in 680 condemned this Pope over his connection to the monothelite heresy.

Now, these are surely difficult matters to delve into, but that's where things are exciting and fun.

Why was Honorius condemned? The simple answer is that he was condemned because did not condemn his monothelite contemporaries. In fact, he seems to almost be sympathetic to them when he writes to them or about them in private letters. The debate rages to this day over whether Honorius was in agreement with the monothelites or not, but the important thing to grasp is this: the debate does not rage over whether Honorius made any public statements or convened over any councils that made the error of monothelitism a binding truth for believers.

His real failure was that he did not stop monothelitism when he could have. Now first, we should note that implicitly this gives Rome's claims historical backing, as his critics are asking him to stop other bishops, which would be beyond his power if Rome's claims were false. But more importantly, Honorius did not proclaim monothelitism or approve a council that was in favor of monothelitism.

Again, his failure was a failure to stop heresy.

And so I title this post The Honor of Honorius--he failed in many senses, but he's still honorable for not publicly proclaiming heresy. I cannot say the same for myself, if you count Christians on Campus at Chino High. But I digress.

More importantly, there is a great honor in the line of Popes that one can see if one is not afraid to search the pages of history.

For last night's debate reinforced what I feared as I first embarked on this journey.

There was only an 8 minute opening statement alloted to last night's debate, and this well-studied and eloquent minister had 2000 years of history to sift and to ponder on. When his attack hinged on history, he decided to choose Honorius. Why? I would argue that it's because that's the closest one even gets to resembling a disproof of infallibility. And it's not even close. Don't you think that if there were Popes denying things like Christ's divinity, etc., that that would have been used in this debate? Instead, we're left with Honorius, who is not so dishonorable after all.

You can read more from the Catholic perspective here.

Philip Schaff's church history presents the Protestant perspective here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


So I am back from a cross country trip.

That is all.....