Friday, May 29, 2009

Trust This Church?

From the Introduction to a book entitled Light and Shadows: Church History amid Faith, Fact and Legend by Father Walter Brandmüller (I found it here), we have this question about trusting the Church.

To me this is the quintessential question---if the Church that was founded by the Apostles and their successors was given a gift whereby her fidelity was maintained, nothing can really stand in the way from joining her. But that is a big "if", and people have big questions. It sounds like Father Brandmüller makes some interesting arguments that I hope and pray will go towards convincing people that this act of trust is worth making.

This introduction makes me wish I could afford another book to my collection--then again, my birthday is in ~3

Occasionally the Church is compared with Noah's ark: only his sons and daughters, only those animals that Noah took with him into the ark were saved from the great flood. In a similar way, the Church is supposed to be man's only rescue from the final catastrophe.

When discussion turns to the Last Things, to man's eternal fate, then the question assumes the utmost urgency: To whom can he entrust his eternal fate and himself? What can he rely on in life and death? Now, since the Church makes the exclusive claim to be the saving ark, this claim must be so solidly established that it does not mean a leap into uncertainty when man puts his trust in this ark.

Questions About Questions

To many of our contemporaries, such trust in the Church appears to be nothing less than an unreasonable demand upon sound common sense. Aren't there countless facts (the objection goes) that demolish the credibility of the Church?

Many people have read the numerous books or seen the television programs that deal with the subject of the Qumran community and seem to offer proof that the beginnings of Jesus of Nazareth and of Christianity ought to be portrayed in a completely different way from what is recorded in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. Many have also seen the earthenware receptacle containing human remains that was found in Jerusalem, on which the names Joseph, Mary and Jesus were inscribed. Isn't this compelling evidence that Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead and that Mary was not taken body and soul into heaven? With that, however, the foundations of the Christian faith crumble into dust and ashes! Many people today suspect that this is so.

Furthermore, the Church—as they say—through clumsy errors made by her official teaching authority on numerous occasions, has repudiated her claim to hold the truth infallibly. Let us listen to Hans Küng, who lists the "classic errors of the Church's Magisterium, most of which have been admitted". First he mentions the "excommunication of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Photius, and of the Greek [Byzantine] Church, which formalized the soon-to-be millennial schism with the Eastern Church". Then Küng adduces "the prohibition against charging interest [on loans] at the beginning of the modern era, whereby the Church's Magisterium changed its opinion much too late, after various compromises". Then (what else could you expect?) he also cites the trial of Galileo in 1616 or else in 1633 and other things of this sort. The most recent major error of the Magisterium, in his view, is its rejection of artificial contraception.

Others before and after him have pilloried the Church on account of the Crusades, the Inquisition and the witch trials, and anyone who is still not satisfied is referred to the financial scandal of the Vatican Bank and the murder conspiracy against Pope John Paul I, who was so likeable: Mafia in the Vatican, at the heart of the Church. From another corner the cry is that a power-hungry clique of Freemasons already replaced Paul VI with a double whom they could control and that the Lodge in general seized power in the Vatican long ago—and so on. Therefore, who can still trust such a Church?

If you are really going to ask the critical question about reliability, however, then direct it not only at the Church but also at the objections that are raised against her.

Justified Criticism?

The Qumran Theme

The most popular books about Qumran, The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception by Baigent and Leigh, and Jesus und die Urchristen [Jesus and the Early Christians] by Eisenmann, as well as other comparable publications on this topic, have been exposed by serious researchers as clumsy concoctions. The books are partly the result of scientific incompetence; to some extent they are based on deliberate, malicious falsification of the facts. It is precisely the archaeological findings at Qumran that, quite to the contrary. shed an extremely interesting light on the New Testament and even clear up riddles. And as for the ossuary with the names of Joseph, Mary and Jesus [Joshua], which actually comes from Jerusalem and dates back to the time of Jesus, the names mean nothing at all, when you consider that they were as common and therefore as insignificant as the names Miller, Fields and Smith would be today.

Similarly, with regard to Hans Küng's "errors" of the Church's Magisterium, we are dealing more with the errors of Hans Küng than with those of the Church. First of all, in page after page, he confuses Patriarch Photius with Patriarch Michael Cerullarius. Then Küng fails to mention that Photius was excommunicated because he had become Patriarch in an unlawful manner and furthermore had accused Rome of heresy and had tried to depose Pope Nicholas I by means of a manipulated synod. Depending on how one views the particular historical circumstances of this case, one could possibly speak about a wrong decision in ecclesiastical politics or an unjust excommunication, but never about an error of the Church's Magisterium.

The same is true for the prohibition against lending at interest and its gradual abolition by the Church. This prohibition against charging interest was based on the Old Testament and had been confirmed by popes and councils. Why this was so becomes clear when you consider that in antiquity and in the medieval world, charging interest was most often identical to usury. Lending at interest lost this sinful character, however, with the transformation of commercial structures in the late Middle Ages. Thus the reason for the prohibition against charging interest became moot over the course of time, and from then on the only concern was with the question of determining the just rate of interest. The general prohibition had thereby become null and void. So where in all this is there an error of the Church's Magisterium?

The condemnation of Galileo's teaching about the fixed position of the sun and the movement of the earth, which is also so often described as an error of the Church's Magisterium, proves upon closer inspection to have been justified at the time. With the scientific methods at his disposal, Galileo could not offer a proof that would convince the specialists either of his day or of ours that that is really the case, nor could he explain, before the discovery of gravity by Isaac Newton, how the earth could possibly revolve at breakneck speed around the sun and around its own axis while at the same time nothing of the sort is perceived by us, since everything on earth stands firm and secure instead of being tossed about in a tumultuous whirl. Most importantly, though, the whole legal proceeding against Copernicus and Galileo resulted in not one single magisterial statement that could have been described as a dogma and on that account would have been irrevocable. In this case, too, the critics fail to take into consideration the many events and facts in intellectual, cultural and scientific history that explain this decision. Furthermore, the most recent scientific findings vindicate the Church of 1633.

A comparably nuanced, careful and comprehensive approach should be taken to the problems connected with the touchy subjects of the Crusades, the Inquisition and the witch trials. In light of recent findings and the latest research, these subjects prove to be many-layered and much more complicated than the superficial observations oft hose who look at them as a source of ammunition against the Church. Moreover, anyone who has even the foggiest notion of the complexity of Financial-political activities and their worldwide interconnections and knows, furthermore, what sort of possibilities they offer for manipulation, will assume that the aforementioned Vatican financial scandal resulted from excessive gullibility or perhaps incompetence or even frivolity in financial matters on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities rather than from criminal intrigues.

As for an opinion of Yallop's book, In God's Name, which maintains that John Paul I was murdered, it is enough to read the first thirty pages in order to pass judgment. On these pages there is talk about the popes of the nineteenth century, and so much of it is false that it is hard to imagine that the author used even an encyclopedia—for that would have sufficed to prevent the numerous errors. If Yallop does not report correctly what everyone can easily find out, how are we supposed to be able to believe him when he cites conversations and events for which, by the very nature of the matter, there can be no witnesses except those who were supposedly involved? No doubt, nothing more should be said about the double of Paul VI and other such luxuriant outgrowths of overheated imaginations.

All these things and many others besides are alleged in order to shake confidence in the Church. As we have shown in these all-too-brief remarks, however, in all these cases that supposedly vitiate the Church, historical and theological knowledge about the subject is enough to prove that such accusations are groundless.

But What About the Moral Failings?

One can with good reason retort that the most extensive knowledge about a subject of this kind will not suffice to excuse the religious and moral failings of important members of the Church throughout the centuries and in every locality, down to the papal adulterer Alexander VI. But then the question arises, on what do we actually base the trust that we place in the Church?

The real basis for our trust can never be a splendid spiritual, moral and religious manifestation of the Church in this world. This has existed and indeed does exist always and everywhere—but one likewise finds always and everywhere the much more conspicuous opposite. Thus all romanticism about the early Church, a romanticism that imagines it sees in the first generations of Christians nothing but holiness and greatness, necessarily runs aground on the hard facts: the Christian married couple Ananias and Sapphira tried to defraud the Apostle Peter; in Paul's congregation at Corinth, there was a case of incest and rebellion against the Apostle; in Philippi, Saint Paul's committed female co-workers Euodia and Symyche quarreled with each other so much that Paul had to give them a serious warning. Indeed, Paul himself parted with Mark and Barnabas during one of his journeys due to differences of opinion that were evidently insuperable. Finally, as early as the year 70, according to the latest research, there was an uprising in Corinth against the priests, such that the Bishop of Rome had to intervene forcefully.

Thus the Church has never had that spotlessly radiant appearance that she ought to have. So it is no wonder, either, that those who believed that they were especially devout were scandalized again and again by this and founded their own "church of the blameless". In contrast, the Church has always shown herself to be a great realist who has always and everywhere reckoned with the failure of her members. Not for nothing did the Lord Jesus himself, who searches and knows the depths of the human heart, institute the sacrament for the forgiveness of sins.

It cannot be said, either, that the shepherds and members of the Church have always and everywhere reacted correctly to the chal1enges of history. On the contrary, many mistakes have been made that subsequently became notorious. For example, was not it disastrous that Pope Clement V allowed himself to be intimidated by the demands of the French king Philip and abandoned the order of Knights Templar, who as a whole were certainly innocent, to a downfall that was in large pare bloody? Entire episcopates—today we would say bishops' conferences—fell into heresy during the Arian crisis of the fourth and fifth centuries. In the sixteenth century the bishops of England, with the exception of Saint John Fisher, followed King Henry Vlll into schism our of weakness and cowardice, and similarly the French episcopate, during the conflict over the freedom of the Church from the state, stood beside Louis XIV against the pope. For almost two centuries the French bishops promoted the heresy of Jansenism. There were not many exceptions, And how did the German bishops conduct themselves during the eleventh- and twelfth-century Investiture Controversy? In 1080 a majority of the German bishops, under the influence of Emperor Henry IV, made an attempt at a synod in Brixen to depose Pope Gregory VII and to elect an antipope. Those German bishops who found themselves confronted with the religious division of the sixteenth century no doubt failed in large measure, too.

Truly, all of this does not make for glorious pages in the ecclesiastical chronicles. In the end, therefore, we cannot place our trust in the wisdom and power of the shepherds, either. No promise was ever made to the Church that her shepherds and her faithful would be irreproachable or capable. What her Founder, the God-man Jesus Christ, did guarantee, nevertheless , is that she will continue unshakably and stand fast immovably in the truth until his return at the end of time. This means that the Church can never proclaim an error in matters of faith whenever she speaks in a form that is ultimately binding; that her sacraments always produce their characteristic effects of grace, provided that they are administered according to the Church's directions; and that her hierarchical-sacramental structure comprising the ministries of primacy, episcopacy and priesthood will always be maintain ed intact. Precisely thereby it is guaranteed that the graces of redemption will continue to be available to the people of all generations, until the Lord comes again.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

the abstract and concrete can do the same

David Bazan is one of my favorite songwriters from this generation. This meaning, the one where I found myself living some 31 years ago (or so).

Probably my favorite Bazan song of all time is this one, which as I mentioned on a previous post, he apparently won't play any more.

The Secret of the Easy Yoke has such simple words that were so true to life of my experience as an evangelical, and they have their own resonance with my experience as a Reformed Presbyterian and my current experience as a Catholic.

i could hear the church bells ringing
they pealed aloud your praise
the members faces were smiling
with their hands out stretched to shake
it's true they did not move me
my heart was hard and tired
their perfect fire annoyed me
i could not find you anywhere

could someone please tell me the story
of sinners ransomed from the fall
i still have never seen you
and some days i don't love you at all

the devoted were wearing bracelets
to remind them why they came
some concrete motivation
when the abstract could not do the same
but if all that's left is duty
i'm falling on my sword
at least then i would not serve
an unseen distant lord

if this is only a test
i hope that i'm passing
cause i'm losing steam
and i still want to trust you

peace be still

For the past several months, I have thought a lot about Bazan's sojourns in doubt, and am eagerly anticipating his next full length album, which I have had the privilege to see performed on two occasions in small house gatherings.

And while his newer songs have interesting thoughts about doubt and damnation, I keep coming back to this song which is now over 10 years old.

One line reverberates in my skull, and it is this:

"the devoted were wearing bracelets to remind them why they came,
some concrete motivation when the abstract could not do the same,
but if all that's left is duty i'm falling on my sword,
at least then i would not serve an unseen distant lord."

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that part of Bazan's problem (and the problem that we all face) with keeping his faith secure is this mentality that the concrete and the abstract are at war with one another.

We are all concrete people with abstract convictions, not mere ideas or concepts of people. Who are we to shun a world where one's abstract convictions are bolstered by one's concrete experience? And who would we be to have our concrete duties and actions regulated by the abstract?

To deny this interweaving relationship is to deny our own complexity.

Now, whether bracelets are the best form of concrete motivation or not, that is another question for another time....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

on plastic dolls and plastic hammers

We have all seen or experienced that familiar scene--a young child acting as though they were all grown up.

This image of our humanity's finitude in light of the ideal that is divinity Himself is especially poignant in my own life for many reasons, but chief on my mind at the moment is watching my beloved daughter. It is absolutely jaw-dropping, inspiring stuff to see a baby girl of almost thirteen months adopt the role of mother with her doll with the zeal of an actual mother. And it reminds me of my feebleness as one who is "actually" a father. I am humbled and in awe at the fact that I have been given these children who are mine to raise, and I am reminded that at the end of the day, all of our efforts to be good people are really approximations of who God is. And despite our coming short, I am prone to thinking that God looks at us, just as I look at my daughter with her doll, or my sons with their tools. Is their actual child raising or craftmanship amazing? No. But their hearts, oh their precious hearts. They are attuned to their calling at life to be someone who makes something of this life.

I know that our Blessed Lord must look at us and see all of the ways that we have made a mess and confusion of this life that we live, but if we are carrying our own dolls and hammers about with the joy, faith, hope, and love of those children, we'll end up all right in the end. At least, that's my hope for us all....

Monday, May 11, 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Grandeur of Covenant Theology

Another post on the same site, this one was much more work for it here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Looking Images in the Eye

New blog post by yours truly here.

Check it, por favor.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

faith vs. ?

Many would set Rome apart from the other Western Christians by saying it's a matter of faith vs. works.

Well, yes and no.

In meditating on many writers and philosophers and average Joe's, I've come to see that it is not about "works".

It's more a matter of saying that we are saved by faith, hope and love.

And when the world is distilled to such a simple view where prayers are not counted or tallied, and instead love and hope are joined hand in hand with faith, I cannot help but can you object to such a view of the world?

It's a view where these words make sense:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Galatians 5:6

The same could be said about these words, which look at the world from the "glass is half empty" viewpoint:

....if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2b

Saturday, May 2, 2009

On the incarnation of the Word

From a discourse by Saint Athanasius (295-373 AD), bishop

The Word of God, incorporeal, incorruptible and immaterial, entered our world. Yet it was not as if he had been remote from it up to that time. For there is no part of the world that was ever without his presence; together with his Father, he continually filled all things and places.
Out of his loving-kindness for us he came to us, and we see this in the way he revealed himself openly to us. Taking pity on mankind’s weakness, and moved by our corruption, he could not stand aside and see death have the mastery over us; he did not want creation to perish and his Father’s work in fashioning man to be in vain. He therefore took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen.
If he had wanted simply to be seen, he could indeed have taken another, and nobler, body. Instead, he took our body in its reality.
Within the Virgin he built himself a temple, that is, a body; he made it his own instrument in which to dwell and to reveal himself. In this way he received from mankind a body like our own, and, since all were subject to the corruption of death, he delivered this body over to death for all, and with supreme love offered it to the Father. He did so to destroy the law of corruption passed against all men, since all died in him. The law, which had spent its force on the body of the Lord, could no longer have any power over his fellowmen. Moreover, this was the way in which the Word was to restore mankind to immortality, after it had fallen into corruption, and summon it back from death to life. He utterly destroyed the power death had against mankind – as fire consumes chaff – by means of the body he had taken and the grace of the resurrection.
This is the reason why the Word assumed a body that could die, so that this body, sharing in the Word who is above all, might satisfy death’s requirement in place of all. Because of the Word dwelling in that body, it would remain incorruptible, and all would be freed for ever from corruption by the grace of the resurrection.
In death the Word made a spotless sacrifice and oblation of the body he had taken. by dying for others, he immediately banished death for all mankind.
In this way the Word of God, who is above all, dedicated and offered his temple, the instrument that was his body, for us all, as he said, and so paid by his own death the debt that was owed. The immortal Son of God, united with all men by likeness of nature, thus fulfilled all justice in restoring mankind to immortality by the promise of the resurrection.
The corruption of death no longer holds any power over mankind, thanks to the Word, who has come to dwell among them through his one body.