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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Manson, Moore, Judgment, Hypocrisy, and Forgiveness - Thoughts for the Week

As I write this, a lot has happened this past week - a whole bunch of celebrities (both infamous and famous) have passed on, including David Cassidy, Della Reese, Anne Wedgewood, Mel Tillis, and perhaps the most notorious, murderous madman Charles Manson.  Naturally, in social media forums like Facebook, these things generate discussions, and some can be quite heated.  Additionally, the "Harassocaust" of allegations (false and true) continue against many public officials, and the one that has garnered my attention is former Alabama judge and now US Senator Roy Moore.  As this is a blog about theological and spiritual issues, much of what I will be addressing here today has to do with the various comments and discussions I have heard from those professing Christianity, and what shocks me is the blatant ignorance and hypocrisy that many comments I have heard truly reflect - it is actually somewhat dumbfounding honestly.  I want to talk about Manson's death first, and then we'll revisit Judge Moore's situation.

In 1969, a self-proclaimed hippie "guru" who had gathered a following around himself of mostly young girls initiated a set of gruesome murders - they occurred on Saturday and Sunday, August 9th and 10th, 1969, exactly three months before I was even born.  The first was a murder of a beautiful young actress and expectant mother by the name of Sharon Tate, and the second was the murder of a wealthy businessman and his wife, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.   The "mastermind" behind these events was this "guru" named Charles Manson, a demonically-driven psychopath who was caught up in his own apocalyptic utopian fantasies which he believed were embodied in a Beatles song called "Helter-Skelter," which in time also became the title of prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's book chronicling the trial of Manson and his young, gullible shills.   Although Manson was locked up in 1971 and was in prison the rest of his life, he has never shown any remorse for his actions; on the contrary, he glorified his demonic deeds while at the same time proclaiming himself both Christ and Satan at the same time.  The man fits in a class that would also encompass people such as Caligula, Rasputin, and Adolf Hitler, and his Machiavellian/utilitarian approach to using religious terminology and actions made his legacy more menacing.  His death a few days ago at age 83 was something that was long-overdue honestly - Manson has been freeloading off of and laughing in the faces of hardworking taxpayers for decades when he should have been executed, thanks in no small part to the "progressive" career politicians (Pelosi, Jerry Brown, and company) who kept him alive.  Despite the lives he ruined, and the agony he caused families of his victims, Manson died without ever having a change of heart, and it is with certainty I say that he busted hell wide open when he died.  Yet, despite the evidence, there are some professed "Christians" who actually are trying to consign him to heavenly glory, and that is where we're going now.

Every time I get on Facebook or some other social media site, I have two general reactions to the things people - meaning those professing to be Christians - post.  The first is a disgust, as the concupiscent limitations I have in my own nature would love to take those people and bash their heads into rocks or something for being so stupid.  The second is a feeling of thanksgiving - most of the people doing this are ironically supposed to be professing Protestant Evangelicals, and given the state of those groups over the past couple of decades, the thankful part of me is that I am no longer associated with them;  I really thank God on every morning I wake up that I have been a Catholic Christian for almost 20 years now, and honestly I would not want it any other way.  Evangelicalism has changed for the most part, and not for the better - it has gotten more worldly in its values, inconsistent in its witness, and less recognizable as preserving a historical Judeo-Christian worldview.  Although occasionally I am asked why I don't any longer identify as Pentecostal-Evangelical, my answer is this - when one tastes a filet mignon, why would one want to go back to eating wieners?   Catholic faith has strengthened me, and it has brought me a maturity I was sorely lacking in for many years.  Now, does that mean that the Catholic Church is perfect?  Certainly not - Catholics have their own issues at times to sort out, but for the most part they are rather minor compared to the identity crisis that has infected American Evangelicalism.  Also, I want to point out as well that this in no way implies that I have totally forgotten where I came from - I grew up in a much more solid type of Evangelical Christianity, and still value much of that.  And, there are many good individual Evangelical Christians I know who I still consider Christian brothers and would never in a million years question their faith.  However, as a whole, Evangelicalism is decaying spiritually, and I count myself blessed and fortunate I got out when I did.  I use this as a preface to talk about some attitudes I have seen in regard to two distinct situations this week, as this decaying Evangelical legacy is what produced the fruit I have seen this week, and a poisonous fruit it is too.

On the day Charles Manson finally died and went to his eternal punishment, my great-aunt posted a small blurb about it on her Facebook status.  What she said was that it was essentially "good riddance," and I agreed with her.  However, some other woman posted on there that we "should not judge" and even went as far as to declare that Manson and eventually Hillary (!) would be in heaven.  Of course, where this deluded woman got this craziness from is an ad nauseum interpretation of Matthew 7:1-3, and in recent years this Scripture has been twisted by many apostatizing Evangelicals to justify a lot of junk.   As mentioned though, the problem with that interpretation is that it is way out of the context of the passage - the passage is not meant to sanction bad behavior and somehow "bless" it, as it is often interpreted.  Rather, in the context of the passage it relates to the commandment in Exodus 34:28, which is a prohibition against character defamation, gossip, and slander.  We see it also addressed in Proverbs 6:16-19, which sort of expounds upon the commandment by specifically condemning three things that are associated with "bearing false witness:"

1.  Lying
2.  False witness proper (meaning gossip and slander)
3.  Sowing discord "among brothers"

It is also further expounded in Exodus 23:1-2, which prohibits the teaming up of a faithful person with a wicked man to slander and gossip against others maliciously, especially against another "brother."  In other words, what "judge not" actually means is not judging falsely, and what the ignorant woman who basically canonize Manson on my aunt's social media post was saying about it is not applicable to Manson or any other situation where factual evidence is abundant and staring one in the face.  The passage in Matthew 7 is also not a pretense for justifying bad music or behavior in churches either, as it is often used.  Therefore, in the situation of Manson's death and eternal consequence, evidence shows that the man had no change of heart, conversion, or examination of conscience in regard to his actions - on the contrary, evidence suggests that he died unrepentant and is eternally lost.  While that is a tragic reality, we must indeed mourn the fact that a soul was lost, but God didn't send him to his fate - Manson sent himself by refusing to accept forgiveness and salvation from Jesus Christ as propitiation for his sins.  Another aspect of this would have been also a matter that would not require the intellect of a rocket scientist either - had Manson been converted or had he experienced some sort of transformation, it would have been public knowledge.  Manson's recanting of his past deeds and attitudes, or a religious conversion, would have been the story of the decade had it happened.  Those who would believe it would have been talking about it joyously, and those who didn't would have been skeptical, but there would have been conversations had it happened.  Therefore, a little common sense must be used here - Manson did not, at least as evidence testifies, have a change of heart on anything, and he died just as arrogant, deluded, and dangerous as he has been for all those years.  Therefore, the heretical universalist tendency of some professed Christians needs to be given a reality check.

The second part of this discussion centers on a living person, Judge (now Senator) Roy Moore, and it does invoke the true context of Matthew 7.  A sad commentary on Evangelical Christendom, especially in America, is the tendency it has for being fickle, subject to gossip and hearsay, and also the propensity to "shoot its wounded."  In the case of Judge Moore, it must be remembered a few years ago that he was the man who courageously paid for and installed a replica of the Ten Commandments in an Alabama courthouse, and he caused a big firestorm among progressive secularists.  At that point, Moore was the hero of Evangelicalism, a courageous cultural warrior who made an unpopular stand for the truth.  After finally resigning from his post as a judge, Moore decided earlier this year to run for the US Senate, and to be honest, the Senate needs a lot more like him.  However, upon his win, some woman just all of a sudden appeared out of the woodwork and accused him of sexually harassing her almost 40 years ago, and now what has happened is that Moore is now Public Enemy #1, even among Evangelicals who formerly touted his virtues.  Personally, I don't believe the allegations to be true, and Moore himself vehemently denies them (although in all fairness he needs to "beef up" his defense a little).  It just seems to me that there is something very fishy about the timing and the circumstances surrounding these accusations, because if this woman really had something to stand on, the question is why she didn't come forward with it back in the 1990's when Moore was on the liberals' "hot seat" for the Ten Commandments display?  What is worse though is how many supposed "Evangelical Christians" have gotten caught up in the slander against Moore - one of them is a professor at my former college where I did my undergrad work, and although this particular professor was himself a target of slander (some liberal students called him a "racist" for his perspective on the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman issue, which he is not) and has also written some very insightful political insights on his periodic blog posts, I was frankly disappointed at the way he just sort of abandoned Moore, giving heed instead to hearsay and slanderous allegations (a direct violation of Matthew 7 aforementioned, incidentally), and he was not alone.   When I tried to inject some reason into the discussion, one of my so-called Evangelical "brothers" started getting nasty with me, calling me "Machiavellian" and accusing me of "idolatry" for saying that we need to see substantial proof first before we draw conclusions.  It honestly angered me - the ignorance and direct disobedience of these people in defiance of what Scripture explicitly says was appalling, and I gave them a mini-sermon on it.  Fortunately, there were others who saw this too, and called out the same people on it.  And, that being said, I want to now give a very sharp Bible lesson to point out a couple of things.

Roy Moore, with all the slander that is damaging him now, is in good company.  In the Gospels, we are vividly shown the contrast in attitudes between Palm Sunday and Good Friday in regards to our Lord, and what we see is equally shocking - on Palm Sunday they are out there throwing down palm branches and calling him "King," and only 5 days later they are screaming for His blood as they goad Pilate into crucifying Him.  How fickle the human race can truly be, seriously.  You would think that as Christians, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the continued transforming work of supernatural grace that is supposed to be elevating, healing, and perfecting our concupiscent nature, would be doing better.  Yet, I have seen it over and over again - good people have had reputations destroyed because of something the secular press said, and all of a sudden they "fall from grace" with the church crowd and are ostracized.  It makes me muse that the majority of Evangelicals in the US are due for a lobotomy or something, as they are acting insane.  And, that leads to the second aspect of this little study.  Although I sincerely doubt the truth of the allegations against Roy Moore - as I said, too many things smell fishy about the whole thing - let's just say he did what he was accused of doing.  For one thing, these allegations are 40 years old now, and in that time even if someone is guilty of something there is a good chance that repentance has taken place, and given Moore's Christian convictions, that would have been a given honestly.  So, if he did do it and Jesus forgave him for it, it is under the blood and we need to do likewise - our judgment of Moore then will have consequences on us, either if he's innocent of these accusations or if he repented of them and Jesus cleansed him.  And, that is the very thing that Matthew 7 is talking about - bad judgment and slander against a brother.  And, in the New Testament, there is a further reality check for those who attack Judge Moore unjustly like this, and they are about to get schooled.

Let us look at I Corinthians 6.  In the passage of St. Paul's Epistle to the Church in Corinth at that time, he is writing pastorally to a number of new Gentile converts to the Church who came out of some ugly backgrounds - some were formerly homosexual temple prostitutes, others were involved in criminal lifestyles, and yet all of them were now new creatures in Christ through the redemptive Blood of Christ through the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  St. Paul was telling these people that certain behaviors would not be tolerated in the Kingdom, and that only Jesus Christ could save them.  The context of the passage is definitely traditionally evangelistic, and expands on what John 3:16 taught - that Christ died to save all men, and anyone who believes can have that salvation.  What the Apostle was telling the faithful in the Corinthian Church was that they don't need to be condescending to others who are in sin, because they need to remember where they came from - it in essence compliments Jesus's command in Matthew 7 to "not judge," and the reason is that at one point they were just as reprehensible.  This passage is something that those who condemn Roy Moore really need to study, and I am going to tell you why.  How would you, as a faithful Christian who maybe came out of a rough background and you have been walking with Christ for years, like it if someone threw your past back in your face?  I mean, Jesus forgave you of that, and you are not that person anymore, right?   And, you haven't engaged in activities you used to engage in prior to your conversion since you were baptized, right?   Therefore, for someone to judge you on the basis of your past like that would be like taking your testimony, stomping on it, and throwing it in the trash.  What is even worse is when a fellow believer does that to you - it would be the ultimate insult to both you and the salvation Christ gave you.  And, as a believer, that is something we never should be doing anyway, right?   Yet, here some of you who are even reading this now doing just that with Roy Moore - shame on you!  For one thing, you are guilty of false witness if you repeat that crap - stop it now!  Secondly, if you do that to him, one day it will return to bite you - judge not lest you be judged, in the correct context in this case.  If you have any ounce of wisdom within yourself, I would suggest you both bite your tongue and also refrain from judgment until you know what the hell you are talking about.  Unless you do that, you are in grave sin, and you'd better recognize that quickly!   Hopefully this mini-study will wake you up then, as obviously your pastor has either been doing a poor job of teaching it or you have been too lazy to listen to him.   Bottom line - get it together, people!

The final thought on this today is that oftentimes we tend to set ourselves up as arbiters of salvation - we tend to sanctify celebrity and yet shred those among us who are up against challenges.  It is time that we get our priorities straight, and you Evangelicals in particular need to pay attention - you talk about your sola Scriptura (in reality, it is one's interpretation and bias of Scripture rather than the words of Holy Scripture itself that get elevated by people professing this) and have your high standards, yet you fail to listen to what Scripture says and you set your own bars higher than even God does.  So, instead of defending bad music and stupidity in your churches with the "do not judge" clause, why don't you apply that principle properly by leaving Judge Moore alone?  Have a happy Thanksgiving season, and hopefully you will thankful for some common sense in these issues at some point.  God bless.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Annoying Phrases in Christianese and What They Really Mean

I wanted to do a semi-lighthearted post this week, as the comp exam experience has now been documented.  In the course of my own journey of faith, I have seen it all - I was converted and baptized in a Southern Baptist church when I was 16, and in my early 20's I was involved with the Foursquare Gospel denomination as a budding lay minister.  I later, via the Anglican tradition, was incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church where I currently am now as a catechist and lay leader.  In the course of that experience, I have gotten to know many diverse people and also have seen all spectrums of the American religious experience - the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The one thing you begin to pay attention to though, especially in American Protestant Evangelical circles, is the lingo that is used.  Evangelicals generally subscribe to a high-test faith, and many of them would never directly say or do anything contrary to their faith, but when it comes to indirect expressions though I have learned that "saintly" things can mean sinful thoughts!  Many of these expressions have been a sort of pet-peeve of mine over the years too - I heard them ad nauseum, and to be honest when I hear someone say this stuff a part of me wants to do the unChristian thing and slap them upside the head.  As an observer of Evangelical culture in particular though, there are a number of phrases I want to focus on here that embody some of the worst expressions and cliches, and I am sure others who hear them would agree as well. 

1.  "I'm praying for your salvation"

This one tops the list as it is one that I hear a lot.  The most recent incident of this happened last year in a disagreement with my brother-in-law, who professes to be a Baptist.  There are a couple of observations about this phrase I want to make now, as they reveal what it really means when someone  invokes it.  For one, usually the person who is saying this really means "I hate your guts," but since "hate" is not a Christian virtue, they of course cannot really use that word.  So, as it is inconceivable for them to spend eternity with anyone as offensive to them as you, they tell you they are "praying for your salvation" as a justification of their real feelings.  Usually too, it is the occasion of which such a statement is evoked as well that is significant - they don't know how to counter your argument with them, so it ticks them off and they evoke this because they are really despising you for calling them on something.  It means essentially too, as a positive, that you have the upper hand in the discussion with them as well.  But, for the person evoking it, there are some problems it poses.

A person who arbitrarily dismisses your own Christian walk because they personally don't like you is what is called an "arbiter of salvation."  They are trying to play the Holy Spirit's role, which is shaky to begin with.  They fail to realize that they also by doing so are dangerously close to blasphemy, as they are placing themselves as God.  Fortunately for us, they are not, and therefore because God is in control of our conversion and walk of faith, it is ultimately HE who has the say-so as to who is saved or not, and not our professed enemies.

A second problem this poses for a person who invokes this against an enemy is this - if the person is Calvinistic theologically, a dilemma happens with their whole "once saved always saved" scheme of things.  When they liked you, you were "saved" in their eyes, but when they hate you, then you all of a sudden "fall from grace."  That is a little Arminian-minded for a Calvinist, is it not?  It simply means that people are acting on their emotions and are not really thinking things through.  For the Catholic Christian, this is not really a problem - salvation is based for the Catholic on supernatural grace, and no one is in a position to determine who is "saved" or not, and that includes even clergy.  Only God Himself determines that, and that is how it should be.

2.  "In the natural"

This is one of those phrases you hear a lot especially among Charismatics and Pentecostals, and I could never really make sense of it except that it was one of those phrases that just sort of grated on me when I heard it.  A synonymous phrase also used interchangeably with this is "in the flesh."  I am going to give the benefit of the doubt here and assume that people who invoke this phrase in the course of conversation are ignorant of the heretical consequence it entails, and that is what I want to discuss.

If you read the first chapter of Genesis, everything that God created He Himself declared as good.  As we move to Job 40, and the enigmatic creature God is admiring with Job called a behemoth (which I believe was an Apatosaurus)  we see that God is essentially crowing over this magnificent creature - He is proud of and loves His creation!  In Thomistic philosophy (and subsequentially classic Catholic theology) there are what are called transcendental properties of being, or more succintly, just transcendentals.  Fr. Norris Clarke, in his book The One and the Many, defines this as "a positive attribute that can be predicated of every real being, so that it is convertible with being itself." (W. Norris Clarke, SJ.  The One and the Many.  Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.  p. 290-291).  What that means is that as God is the Creator and ultimate source of all being, then He Himself is the source of these transcendentals, which include truth, beauty, and goodness.  Although the Fall corrupted that somewhat, everything as being qua being is still fundamentally good in its being, although its nature may be corrupted.  God created all of this good, in other words - by real extension, that even means that Satan, as far as his being as God's creation, was good, although his nature is intrinsically evil.  For us, it is sacramental grace that heals, elevates, and perfects our nature to be what God intended, but it also means that there is still good to work with in most cases.  So, it is not a sin to enjoy life and the beauty of nature, as God created it for us. 

That being said, when a Pentecostal in particular rejects something good because it is "in the natural," they are in essence not realizing what they say.  As a matter of fact, the only people that would agree with them was a heretical sect at the dawn of the Church called the Gnostics, who were so radically dualistic that they thought all matter was "evil" and only the "spirit" was good.  To reject something "in the natural" as "evil" is to slap God in the face and insult His creation, in other words, and it is the height of arrogance and ingratitude.  Therefore, some Pentecostal folks who like invoking this terminology would do themselves a great service if they read St. Peter's account in Acts 10 - the sheet descending with "unclean" animals, at which when Peter rejected God's invite to have some bacon for breakfast, God rebukes him and says "do NOT call unclean what I have sanctified!"  In other words, we need to be careful what cliches we use. 

3.  The terms "Brother" and "Sister"

Evangelicals in particular love to call each other "Brother This" and "Sister That," and oftentimes it is so routine that it can easily be taken for granted.  There are problems with the context of these terms though, and that is what I want to address.

A person who uses overly religious and flowery language, calling everyone "Brother" or "Sister," often has a serious issue with over-compensation.  In my experience (although there are exceptions of godly people who do this too) some who over-indulge in using these titles are often insincere and are trying to "act" Christian rather than be Christian.  Personally, when I hear someone using such terms, I cringe, because generally the person is full of crap honestly.  In real life, with biological siblings, you don't necessarily call them "Brother" or "Sister," and at times some of the names some do call their siblings ain't that nice honestly!  While we are definitely "brethren in faith," we don't have to preface addressing everyone in the church with a "brother" or "sister."  We should already know that without announcing it. 

Years ago, I recall in my undergraduate studies at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL,  how many of my classmates used to even call the professors "Brother" or "Sister," which honestly I never could do. One professor in particular, the late Dr. Michael Dusing, mused on this by saying to his students that he would prefer that they call him "Professor" or "Dr." because he was not a monk!  His good-natured observation of that was amusing, but he had a point.  While it is acceptable to call a member of a religious order "Brother" or "Sister," it is not necessary to call the average fellow believer in our churches that.  Ironically, the same people who insist on saying "Brother This" or "Sister That" will often bristle at a Catholic referring to their priest as "Father," even invoking the Scripture in Matthew 23:9 to justify their indignation.  For one thing, such are taking this passage out of context anyway, and if they were really reading what it actually says, they would think twice about flippantly using the "Brother" and "Sister" labels then, as they are actually the ones disobeying Scripture.  That would definitely be some food for thought.

4. "You have to have heart knowledge instead of head knowledge."

This is one of those cliched statements you often hear from smaller, rock-ribbed Pentecostal and Fundamentalist churches who are intimidated by snubbery shown them by people who are more affluent or educated, and although to a degree I can sympathize with the sentiment, there is still a major problem with that statement. 

The justification that many who invoke this one have is that when they hear a person who can recite Scripture or maybe speak eloquently yet not reflect what they believe the Christian lifestyle is.  In other words, it is all talk and no substance to them.  However, the extreme to this, although a valid concern, is that often the same people will reject all educated people as being "in the natural" and not "spiritual."  Note how this one ties into some of the other cliches discussed - by rejecting God-given intelligence in favor of some "spiritual" insight, these people are rejecting individuals as God created them to be - while not everyone is called to be an Ivy-League scholar or a master theologian, some do have an inclination toward those vocations and the Church needs them.  The problem though is the stigma attached - some who have pursued higher academic pursuits have by their own reasoning forgotten their faith, and when they do so, it doesn't present a good picture to the ones who are faithful churchgoers.  The problem with the faithful churchgoer though is that they judge all smart people based on that stereotype fostered by a negative experience.  And, that is the problem.

In II Timothy 2:15, we are exhorted by the Apostle St. Paul to "study to show ourselves approved," and that we are to know our faith in such a way as to articulate it to others.  In that regard, the Church has historically seen human reason as a gift of God that is to be combined with Scripture and Tradition to embody the fulness of the faith we have been entrusted with.  Therefore, instead of reason being rejected, it should be embraced and utilized to discipleship and growth of our own spirituality. 

5.  "Don't judge lest you be judged!"

This is a cliche which in recent years has been lifted straight out of Scripture (Matthew 7:1-3) but has often been misapplied to justify bad behavior and other ills.  I want to share a personal example of this and then elaborate more on it.

Some years back, one of my sisters-in-law went through a very nasty divorce, and as a result she was pretty broken over it.  A couple of my other in-laws profess Christianity, and they are Evangelical Protestants to the core, but in this situation they exhibited some of the most cruel, anti-Christian behavior that to this day still leaves me in shock as to its severity.  The professing Christian sister essentially embarked on a smear campaign against her sister by broadcasting intimate details of her whole life to people the other sister didn't even know, slandering her character.  All of this as a "prayer concern," but in reality it was malicious gossip and slander.  The offending sister, ironically, went to one of those trendy "seeker" megachurches in the Chicago area, and when concerns about inappropriate music, etc., within that church were brought to her attention, she liked to invoke the "judge not" argument on that.  Yet, she wrongly judged and condemned her own sister, and to this day the other sister is still stinging from the damage wrought by the whole thing, whereas the offending sister never sought to restitute herself.  In reviewing that story, it seems as if the offending sister was more concerned with rock bands in the church than she was with the brokenness of her own sister, and while invoking Matthew 7 and the whole "judge not" thing with the "worship bands," she blatantly disobeyed the real application of that verse when it came to her own flesh and blood.  Unfortunately, I have seen that many other times as well, and it is sickening really - it is one reason why Evangelical Christianity is often more like secular entertainment instead of a life-changing relationship, and that needs to really be addressed and dealt with in their community.  Again, it is important to understand that the passage in Matthew 7 was not meant to rightly judge what is appropriate for Christian worship, but rather it was meant to safeguard fellow Christians against gossip and slander within the Church, and thus is tied into the commandment about "not bearing false witness."  It is time more teaching be made available to correct this as well.

6.  "I don't have religion, I have a relationship!"

When this is invoked, it often is in an iconoclastic context against Catholics and others who may worship more formally and in a liturgical context by more free-church Evangelicals and Pentecostals.  A whole other teaching could be derived just from this, but for brevity we will focus on a few items in particular.

In general, when someone says this statement, they have a problem with "Tradition," which to them is almost a cussword.  They maybe have been turned off by a comatose nominalism they perceived in a more formal or traditional church, and therefore they have branded all such worship without really understanding it with the word "religion."  What they fail to realize though is that religion itself is not necessarily a bad word, and that they follow one themselves whether they admit it or not!  Many of them too, in rejecting "tradition," have in essence erected a new "tradition of men" called anti-traditionalism.  The tradition of anti-traditionalism goes back to the Reformation itself, and is largely embodied in the thinking of Ulrich Zwingli in particular, who due to the faulty reasoning of Sola Scriptura supposedly rejected anything he couldn't find explicitly stated in Scripture.  In time, it became more a reality that people who thought like this were not truly believing sola Scriptura, but their own interpretations of what Scripture said - so, if they didn't like what Scripture said, they conveniently allegorized it.  That too created some problems, and resulted in more denominations today than one could shake a proverbial stick at.  So, therefore, by rejecting what they perceive as "religion" and "tradition," they set up their own as an often insufficient substitute for the real thing.


There are probably many, many more of these statements and flippant invocations I could document, but you get the general idea.  Many people say stupid things a lot of times that they don't even understand themselves - it is often a product of either bad experience or faulty indoctrination, and many say these things ignorantly without knowing what they truly imply.  The job of a catechist, apologist, or even theologian a lot of times is to articulate proper discipleship for people so that they can understand what they say better and maybe rethink some attitudes in light of true evidence.  And, that is one of the main purposes of my sharing these today as well.  As Christians, we need to watch what we say, as often we can sound like either idiots or we can hurt someone by saying something so flippantly that we don't even think about implications.  If this brief study inspires contemplation on that level, then my objective is accomplished.   God bless until next time.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

My Journey to a Comp Exam - What I Have Learned Part IX

Here we are, at the final question I will potentially have to address on my upcoming comprehensive examination!  This one entails a course on the Documents of Vatican II, and I compiled the outline that I will be using to construct the article myself.  Again, many thanks to my classmate, Patti Christensen, for the effort of organizing the group effort for studying for this exam, and as I prepare myself to take it in just a couple of months, I covet your prayers and also ask that you keep my fellow classmates who still need to take it in your prayers as well, as this is a LOT of intense material - it essentially covers everything we have learned in four years.  

Vatican II and its decisions have indeed carried a lot of weight over the years with members of the Church,  and the implementation of many things from that Council have sparked discussions, debates, and controversies on various levels.  Was Vatican II a bad thing for the Church, or does it have continuity with past Catholic teaching?   Also, how do the documents of Vatican II express both continuity with past teaching as well as new approaches which present Catholic teaching in the light of present-day situations and an understanding of modern people?  That is the first and primary part of this discussion, and we will start there.

Of all the documents that came from Vatican II, there are four very pivotal ones that are called "Constitutions," and in a lot of ways they are the authoritative texts upon which everything else that came out of the Council rests.  The four documents notes are Sancrosanctum Concillium (which addresses the role of the Sacred Liturgy), Lumen Gentium (which deals specifically with the Church), Dei Verbum (which deals with Divine Revelation, and especially emphasizes the important role of sacred Scripture in the life of the Church), and Gaudium et Spes (which deals with how the Church encounters the modern world).  The four documents, although foundational, do not carry equal authority, and here is why.  Two of them - Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum - are what are known as "Dogmatic Constitutions," which means they have the highest level of decree.  One is a "Constitution" only - Sacrosanctum Concillium - and what that means is that it has authority as far as giving the proper guidelines regarding what it addresses.  The fourth - Gaudium et Spes - is what is known as a "Pastoral Constitution," meaning that it provides pastoral and moral instruction on the issue it addresses.   Although fairly recent documents, they do show a continuity with development of teaching found in documents from earlier Councils.  However, the four must be interpreted in light of one another.  And, together, they constitute the hermeneutical key for interpreting the Church's full library of documents.  There were many other documents that were generated by the Council Fathers, but these four have a pivotal authoritative role in the reading of the others.

Of the four, Dei Verbum has a certain priority based on what is called the "hierarchy of truths" - the way one views Divine Revelation (in particular Sacred Scripture) has bearing on one's understanding of the notion of the Church (Lumen Gentium), its mission (Sacrosanctum Concilium), and how the Church relates to the modern world (Gaudium et Spes).  Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium should indeed be viewed as interpreting each other mutually.  Gaudium et Spes also is not to be considered a more "mature" document than earlier draftings of Lumen Gentium, but rather as a "both/and" in contrast to "either/or."   In other words, Lumen Gentium defines the Church in historical context, while Gaudium et Spes defines it in light of contemporary culture. 

Moving forward, there are successes and shortcomings of the implementation of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council within the Church from the close of the Council in 1965 to the present.  Many controversies and issues, as a matter of fact, are not due so much to the actual decisions of the Council itself, but rather are matters of interpretation and implementation.   A faulty implementation based on a faulty interpretation of the documents of the Council has led to some abuses and other issues, and these are very real issues that need to be addressed by the Church as a whole.  But, there are both positives and negatives that have arisen from the Council and its documentation, and those will now be dealt with more closely.

One of the major fruits of the Council was that it fostered an openness of dialogue with others.  As positives, other Christians are now seen as "separated brethren" and as fellow Christians rather than as apostates as many had viewed Protestants and others in earlier generations.  There has also been a more appreciative attitude in regard to the Jews, as the overt anti-Semitism of some in the past was refuted soundly and the Jews are now recognized as being important to salvation history as our "older brothers" in the faith.  As far as other religions are concerned, a greater respect has been fostered, and good things with possibility for implementation have been noted in other religious traditions outside Christianity.  However, there are negatives to this as well.  For one, while recognizing other Christians as actually Christian, it is important that Christian unity is taught without compromise of essential Church teaching.  In regard to the Jews, while a greater appreciation of the Jews and their role in salvation history is critical, it must not compromise the evangelistic mandate of the Church to pray for their conversion either - the ultimate act of love for our Jewish brethren, in other words, is to introduce them to their Messiah, whom we follow as Christians.  And regarding other religions, while it is good to recognize positives within other religions, it is also important to avoid both universalism and syncretism, which means there must be a clear definition of what those positives in other religious traditions are and also caution must be exercised to not engage in practices from these other religious traditions that could cause a conflict with Magisterial Tradition.  If ecumenism is seen in its proper light, it means that a healthy respect of others while still being faithful to Church doctrine will be fostered that will aid in dialogue and even evangelization of the world for Christ.

Another major fruit of the Council is the encouragement of a more active role of the laity in the life of the Church.  So, the question is how that has caught on at the lay level?  The first area to look at here is Bible study.  Although never discouraged necessarily in the past, the Council now actively encourages laypeople to read Scripture and also spiritually-edifying material and there is also an emphasis on not merely reading Scripture, but also knowing Scripture - this entails a more thorough knowledge on the part of the laity for both Scripture and Tradition, and it also creates a vital groundwork for prioritizing proper catechesis.  A witness to Jesus Christ in both word and action is also encouraged and is to be emphasized to the laity.  In word, that means that lay Catholics must be more bold and assertive to discuss their faith.  It also means in word that Catholics need to learn to articulate the faith effectively in such a way that they themselves understand it and that those they talk to will as well.  In action, Catholics should also be encouraged to live their lives in a way that reflects their faith.  This entails a stand for traditional marriage, the sanctity of life, and other traditional values being lived as well as merely professed.  The laity also are encouraged to be more active and concerned in the cause for Christian unity - the Charismatic Renewal is seen as a perfect vehicle for this.  Catholics should be able to fellowship with other Christians (Evangelicals, Anglicans, Orthodox, etc.) in grassroots ecumenical endeavors, as well as having solidarity in a stand on social issues with these Christians and others - such as Mormons for instance - who share convictions on traditional values and how they can be restored to society.  This does not mean that we have to share beliefs with them as Catholics, but that the common stand on traditional values should be seen as something that all these communities should strive and cooperate for.  This also entails social justice and works of mercy and charity.  These works of mercy and charity reflect dignity of personhood, and in turn this fosters an environment for genuine social justice.  Included in this is a concerned for the disadvantaged, marginalized, and persecuted.  The transformation of society with the light of Christ is determined in large part by these concerns. 

Another area is the impact of marriage life, religious vocations, and other special callings.  Catholic teaching on traditional marriage must be seen as a sacramental union and a lifelong vocation.  This necessitates a need for young people to discern a call to serve the Church. 

The reality of changes in liturgy has also become a pivotal issue regarding implementation of the Council's decisions in the life of the Church.  A major contention has arisen over the implementation of the Novus Ordo as succession to the pre-1962 Tridentine (or old Latin) Mass.  The major concerns of the traditionalists were with a "dumbing-down" of the liturgy to accommodate contemporary culture, and that led later to schisms such as those of the Society of St. Pius X - also called sedevacantists - who are openly critical at times of even the legitimacy of the Holy See.  However, fortunately, the Church has allowed for those who so choose to continue using the pre-1962 Mass form, which is called the "Extraordinary Form of the Mass," and that has led to apostolates forming within the Church and faithful to the Holy See, such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.  As a positive also with the Novus Ordo, there is more encouragement for lay participation in the Mass that was lacking previously.  However, there is also another issue over the celebration of what are called "Specialty Masses" (Clown Masses, Polka Masses, etc.) which are designed to reach out to specific communities.  The concerns raised are primarily with the reality that these "specialties" can detract from the Christocentric focus of the Mass.   Concerns over the use of music have also been noted.  Much like the parallel "Worship Wars" that Evangelicals have been engaged in over the past couple of decades, a lot of debate and dialogue has been generated among Catholics about music appropriate for Mass - for instance, is it proper to use contemporary styles, and to what degree?  Also, is it appropriate to rework some secular songs (notably George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord") to fit into the Mass?  These are legitimate concerns to be addressed, and in doing so it is important to understand Church teaching and the role of continuity of Tradition in those discussions. 

In conclusion, an important question to ask is this - does the Mass encourage one to draw near to Christ, and do the elements of the Mass point one toward receiving Christ in the Eucharist?  The Christocentricity of the Mass is integral to Catholic life, and in implementation of the Vatican II Council's reforms and such, this needs to take central focus.  The point of the Vatican II Council and its decisions is that oftentimes it is not the readings of the documents themselves that are the problem but the way they are interpreted.  Catholic faith and spirituality - and also doctrine - have a continuity over the ages, and that must be preserved even in the face of societal pressure to change.  It is not the job of the world to transform the Church to conformity with secularism and modernity, but rather the mandate of the Church to evangelize and transform the culture for Christ.  How that is implemented remains the root issue, and may our Church leaders always have the discernment to be in continuity with Holy Tradition and the Magisterium. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

My Journey to a Comp Exam - What I Have Learned Part VIII

This is the eighth installment in this series regarding my upcoming comprehensive examination in completion of my graduate program, and as is the case, this will be built around the "skeleton" of a study outline that either I or one of my classmates have created.  In this case, the class is Foundations of Moral Theology, and the outline is my creation.  Therefore, I will be constructing this study around my own pre-created outline.  This is the next to the last in the series, and in this case the question has two parts that will be dealt with separately.

One obvious thing about the morality of the West, although often contemporary society is trying to divorce itself from, is the fact that there are distinctive contributions that Christianity makes to our understanding of the basis, meaning, and content of morality.  This is particularly enunciated in the late Pope St. John Paul II's 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor, which has many important observations to make, and much of what we will be discussing at this point will reference that encyclical in more detail.  Morality and faith are seen as being connected, and hence that is where this aspect of the study proceeds from.

As has been seen in other sections of this study, the Church understands Scripture from the standpoint of the "Fourfold Hermeneutic," and here we begin to see that two of those - moral and anagogical - are intimately connected.  Pope St. John Paul II notes that "it is an essential and unavoidable question for the life of every man, for it is about the moral good which must be done, and about eternal life.  The young man senses that there is a connection between moral good and the fulfillment of his own destiny." (VS 1:8).  In other words, morality does have a part in where we will spend eternity, and to put it simply, even though obviously salvation is not based on works, it also is obvious that works are to be a fruit of living faith (James 2:14-26).  Without them, faith quickly dies, and the person then forfeits salvation based on the fact their dying faith no longer hopes in it.  Doing such works is also a sign of seeking what is good, and when one seeks the good, it will ultimately mean turning toward God, as the late Pontiff notes that "to ask about the good, in fact, ultimately means to turn toward God," (VS 1:9) which then makes this fundamentally a religious question rather than a philosophical one, although a metaphysical reality does lie at its core.   It therefore means that there is a very close connection between eternal life and obedience to God's commandments - it is again noted that the Gospels themselves affirm that "if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17).   This is why too that one of the earliest Scriptures I recall memorizing was Psalm 119:11, which I am also having my 6th-grade catechumens I instruct learn as well - Your Word I have hidden in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee.  As the late Pontiff also points out, this is an act of  man's free will and God's infinite love combined, as he notes that "the moral life presents itself as the response due to the many gratuitous initiatives taken by God out of love for man."  Following the Commandments then is a proof of love of God by demonstrating a love for neighbor based on a morality that respects the personhood of one's neighbor as being created of God.  The commandments therefore work together in that there can be no genuine love for God without love of one's neighbor - noting I John 4:20, the late Pontiff also notes that the way we respect and treat others reflects how we serve God, and the two are intrinsically related (VS 1:14).  The ultimate fulfillment of this, as noted, is in the person of Jesus Christ, who by seeking to indwell His disciples internalizes these convictions in such a way that they become part of a person's being.  Friendship with Christ informs and penetrates the entire human structure of action, and it causes us to participate in the ideal of communion with God (Livio Melina, The Epiphany of Love.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2010. p. 17).  The destiny of action, therefore, is to be communion with God (Melina, p. 18).  With Christ being the efficient cause of love in us, at the origin of human action then is Christ Himself, and all that we are, do, and believe is rooted in Him.  This results in a supernatural grace being dispensed in our lives that demands a maturity in self-giving to which real human freedom is called (VS 1:17).  Human freedom and God's law therefore are not in opposition, but rather appeal to each other. Therefore, to the extent which we serve God, we are therefore truly free. 

Although ultimate salvation comes in Christ, and only those who believe in and accept what He offered us will inherit eternal life, at the same time there is an intrinsic part of human nature that still retains a vestige of what God created in it - the ideals of good morality and common decency are not solely the property of the Church, although in Christ they are perfected.  Rather, they establish a universal standard to which all of us are meant to observe.  This standard brings out the full meaning of love of neighbor, and the command "Come, follow me" is a new specific commandment form of the love of God.  However, Christ embodies and completes that concept, as the supernatural grace He makes available to us now perfects and clarifies the meaning of this to rise above mere humanitarianism or a response to aleve personal guilt for failing in responsibility, and by following Christ, we are conformed to a higher standard (VS 1:21).  It is the Church then who acts as the custodian and dispenser of this truth via living Tradition (VS 1:27), and within Tradition, the authentic interpretation of the Lord's law is developed, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Pope St. John Paul II also notes that there is an intrinsic relationship between freedom and truth - "The fundamental question which the moral theories mentioned above pose in a particularly forceful way is that of the relationship of man's freedom to God's law; it is ultimately the question of the relationship between freedom and truth." (VS 3:84).  Freedom must submit itself to God's truth in order for God's truth to transform man's freedom into something genuine, and this is a reality which has been lost in today's culture.  In order for the Church to be effective in its mission in the current cultural climate, the rediscovery of this relationship is integral.  It is within the embodiment of a person, Jesus Christ, that this answer can be found; the central fact of the Passion of Christ is the answer to the problem of morality (or lack thereof).  As the eminent Anglo-Catholic theologian E.L. Mascall notes in his book The Secularization of Christianity (New York:  Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966), the new creation (or "new man in Christ Jesus") is the life of the "man for others," and the love whereby we are brought into grounds our being in such a way that it is manifested outwardly (Mascall, p. 160).  Jesus is therefore the living, personal summation of perfect freedom in total obedience to the will of God.  The frank and open acceptance of the Truth is conditional to authentic freedom - Pope St. John Paul II cites John 8:32 ("You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free") as a premise for saying that true worship of the true God (embodied in Jesus Christ, God the Son) is the deepest and most profound foundation of freedom (VS 3:87).  And that leads to the consequence of what happens when man fails to do so.

When truth is separated from freedom, it ultimately leads to a separation of faith from morality (VS 3:88).  What that means in plain language is that a morality based on mere secularism may have the appearance of "good," but it lacks.  Also, freedom detached from universal truths leads to a radical redefinition of morality, and when that happens faith is rejected, truth is subjected, and morally adverse behavior is objectified.  Many may even "profess" being Christian, but the attitudes they espouse in their actions make them live their lives as though God doesn't exist - they become functional atheists, even if they themselves would deny the label.  This is why Christians have a mandate to rediscover the newness of their faith - including the timeless truth that embodies it - and its power to judge prevalent cultural norms that are often at odds with the Biblical worldview.  This means that faith possesses a moral content - "It gives rise to and calls for a consistent life commitment; it entails and brings to perfection the acceptance and observance of God's commandments." (VS 3:89).    When a matter of moral norms prohibits intrinsic evils, there are no exceptions allotted then to anyone, as we are all equal before the demands of morality (VS 3:96).  And, being God alone constitutes the unshakeable foundation and essential condition for morality, it is He that prohibits adverse behavior that demeans and violates dignity of personhood (VS 3:99).  Therefore, by this very nature, systems of totalitarianism (Nazism, fascism, Communism, socialist models, and "mob rule" like the French Revolution) arise because of the denial of truth in the objective sense.  Its roots indeed are found in the denial of the transcendant dignity of the human person as the visible image of an invisible God.  As Hilaire Belloc notes though, the oligarchic capitalist system can also be totalitarian in that it reduces the person to a commodity to enrich others - he says in relation to this that "it was not machinery that lost us our freedom; it was the loss of a free mind" (Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State.  London:  T.N. Foulis, 1912. p. 38).  The Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin also shares some detail in relation to this when he writes that "False teachings arise out of these preconceptions (distorted ideas of "fairness," in this case those embraced by totalitarian systems); they lead to violence and revolution.  And revolution brings only blood and suffering, in order to disenchant and sober those who are blinded by their passions.  So entire generations of men live in preconceptions and languish in disillusionment, and so it is that the word 'fairness' is sometimes met with a sarcastic smile and a sneer" (Ivan Ilyin, The Singing Heart, English translation.  Memphis, TN:  The Orthodox Christian Translation Society, 2016.  p. 22). The person is created by an invisible God as a visible image, and as such is subject of rights which cannot be violated, and an important principle here is the idea of persona est sui iuris, meaning a person belongs to himself and not to another.  This is why the virtue of temperance is also required regarding respect for human dignity in economic matters in particular, and why the preservation of our neighbor's rights to render what is his or her due requires the practice of the virtue of justice, and is an expression of the command to "love our neighbor as ourselves." (VS 3:100, CCC 2407).  As a society becomes more secularized, the decline and obscurity of the moral sense as well as the loss of faith is inevitable (VS 3:106).  This then aids in the rise of anti-Christian tendencies toward subjectivism, utilitarianism, and relativism.  To illustrate that, let us look at America in 2017 - the new "morality" is the idea that a person's feelings are the prime moral compass, and absolute truth is seen as "hate speech" and that attitude results in an obliteration of common sense - in some sectors it is even illegal to refer to a man as "he" or a woman as "she," as now even an obvious, visible fact such as gender identity is now up for debate.  Instead of the normal biological determination of gender, now one is what they "feel" like being, meaning that someone like Bruce Jenner can put on a dress, call himself "Cait" and is now a "woman" because he says he "feels like a natural woman."  There is something called extrinsicism which lies at the root of other false tendencies such as utilitarianism and the idea of proportionalism (to be discussed in more detail shortly) which essentially entails the divorce between faith and conduct in everyday life - a person's conduct, in other words, doesn't reflect the faith they profess.  We see this in many nominally Christian mainline Protestants who claim to follow the Gospel, yet they deny almost every cardinal doctrine of the faith.  It has even infected Evangelical Protestants and some Catholics to a degree recently as well, via the popularity of people such as Rob Bell and Brian McLaren in Evangelical circles - my own misguided brother-in-law, for instance, thinks that his definition of "grace" is his "salvation," to the point that he will even accuse others of treating doctrine as "idolatrous" - there is no way a faithful Christian can worship doctrine, for one thing, and the doctrine points us to Christ, so that is a weird conclusion my dear misguided brother-in-law has come to.  This denigration of doctrine by my brother-in-law is an example of extrinsicism - you "appear" Christian outwardly, but don't take your faith seriously enough to believe what it teaches.  It is becoming an epidemic in society these days, and its main problem is its attempt to divorce human freedom from its essential relationship to eternal truth (Melina, p. 69).  And, that leads to something then called proportionalism, which will have a considerable space devoted to it in the following paragraphs here.

To define proportionalism, it is a system of thought that essentially states that one can determine the right course of action by weighing up the good and the necessary evil caused by the action.  These "goods" and "evils" are seen as pre-moral (whatever that means!) and the proportionalist in essence separates the goodness of an action from its rightness, and the action itself is reduced to a mere technicality.  This has given it a rather unique understanding of human action and its moral evaluation, in particular when it comes to intention/foresight distinction and the meaning of the term "object."  "Right" or "wrong" to the proportionalist doesn't necessarily equal "good" or "bad," but rather is only possible to the proportionalist by the will of the person choosing to do the action.  That being said, only those consequences which are means to ends need be considered according to the proportionalist (Christopher Kaczor, Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition.  Washington, DC:  Catholic University of America Press, 2002. p. 62).  Therefore, that which is foreseen but not intended is not necessarily a bad thing to the proportionalist, and only results in tragic collateral damage rather than direct consequence.  The intention is driven by a desire, and if the effect is not intended but the desire is, then it is not "bad" to the proportionalist.  Then there is the issue of GRD (goodness/rightness distinction) which is not synonymous but distinct from proportionalism but advocated by proportionalists themselves. What is known as I/F (intent/foresight) distinction is more directly associated with proportionalism - I/F is the distinction between the intent of an act differing morally from the foresight of its commission and consequence.  This then begs an explanation of what the proportionalist means by the term "object."  In some instances, the "object" is coupled with the "subject" and is therefore not merely an external event.  The moral action of an external event therefore, to the proportionalist, cannot be determined detached from the human subject.  This has a serious theological consequence, as it makes sin a relativistic thing in that although two people do the same thing, for one it is a "sin" while for another it is not.   This places the object of a human act in determination by proximate intention.  The proportionalist requires a motive or a remote intention to be included in the object of an act, and therefore it is treated as proximate.  It therefore expans the notion of "object" for the proportionalist.  To define what that all means, a proximate is something where the motive and intention are both realized.  A remote is where the motive is unrealized but the intention is realized. It makes sin again a relative concept, and thus defines "sin" based on the conclusions of the proportionalist based on the lens through which the person is viewing the whole action.

In contrast to the proportionalist position, an understanding of human action and its moral evaluation is found that is more consistent with traditional views in the writings of Kaczor, Pope St. John Paul II, and St. Thomas Aquinas.  How they view intent/foresight is somewhat different than the proportionalist, and to begin we look at Kaczor's evaluation of Aquinas's Prima secundae, and this is embodied in its Prologue, which begins with St. John of Damascus and his affirmation that man is made in the image of God (Kaczor, 45).  Therefore, as God acts freely, so does man as the image of God.  Man therefore has a degree of dominion over his personal acts - and an accompanying responsibility for the consequences of his actions - that God endows via free will.  For Aquinas then, the end of all human striving is to be union with God.  He identifies then two types of action proper to human behavior.

The first type of action Aquinas identifies are what is called acts of a human being.  These are things such as the growth of hair, the digestion of food, and natural breathing.  These are acts that are intrinsic to our function and existence and are not subject to moral analysis as they are amoral actions - they just are.  Also included in those are emotions ("passions") such as anger, which are also common to all human beings and are likewise not subject to this analysis - an emotion cannot be right or wrong, although it must be understood that actions resulting from emotions can be right or wrong. So then, emotions motivate action.  Although imperfect due to the effects of the Fall, these things are not morally right or wrong in themselves.

The second type of action are what are classified as human acts.  These proceed from individual reason and will.   St. Augustine contends that moral acts and human acts are one and the same, a conclusion that Aquinas also concurs with.  Aquinas further divides these acts into two categories.  The first of these are interior acts, which lead the person toward or away from God based on influences within ourselves.  The second are exterior acts, which lead the person toward or away from God based on an outside influence (in this case, God or Satan).  Therefore, sinful acts lead a person away from God, and may be the result of both internal and external in tandem.

Aristotle also notes that there are actions to the sake of ends, meaning simply that the motivation of the act is toward something - if it is away from God then, it is toward eternal punishment, to put into the context of Christian theology.  These are also characterized by actions that are "knowing willing," meaning that there must be an outward understanding of the action, as well as a knowledge of what could exist rather than what already does.  The action then proceeds through willing, intention, consent, choice, command, and use. 

In regard to the moral act itself, Pope St. John Paul II notes first that there is a solid relationship between man's freedom and God's law which is centered on moral conscience.  This is manifested then and realized in human acts.  The morality of the acts is defined by the relationship of man's freedom with the authentic good (ultimately God Himself) (VS 2:4).  An action therefore is morally good when it entails choices of freedom that are in conformity with man's true good (again, God).  This then means that, as we saw earlier, that there is a connection between morality and anagogy, and only an act in conformity with good can be a pathway to life. 

In conclusion, the Christian life makes man aware, through God's revelation, of the newness which characterizes morality of action.  Showing ourselves good in our works reflects the beauty of the image of Christ in us. It also ensures the ordering of human acts to God's will.  As to the intention of the acting subject, there are circumstances in which the action takes place to be considered as well as resulting consequences. In other words, what we do has consequences, and therefore we have to discern our actions wisely, and be dependent on God for directing our actions.

So, that is it for this week, and will be back next time with the final question and its commentary.

Friday, October 27, 2017

My Journey to a Comp Exam - What I Have Learned Part VII

Again, this is my personal chronicle of studying for the comprehensive exam that will complete my MACE degree, and in doing this I am partially doing it as a study aid for myself, but also to share with others many of the profound things I have learned in the course of my studies at Franciscan University of Steubenville.  This is Part Seven.

As has been the case with all the series, this article is based on outlines that were developed as a collaborative effort among those of us who are in these courses and are preparing for the comprehensive examination.  The study project is largely due to the effort of my classmate Patti Christensen, who did an outstanding job coordinating among us who does what outline.  The course this part deals with today is Biblical Catechetics, which I had taken back in the Spring 2015 term, and the outline was actually the work of two other classmates, Chris McNerney and Pam Lynch, both of whom did an outstanding job as well.  As with the other articles, my own outline in this case is synthesized from both Pam's and Chris's work, and serves as the foundational "skeleton" upon which I construct this article today.  

The period between Jesus's Resurrection and Ascension carries some very profound catechetical significance, and it encompasses roughly a 40-day period.  Using the Scriptural account itself, we are now going to examine this period and its catechetical implications more closely.

To begin, it is important to understand that Jesus didn't finish His saving work at the Resurrection, as is often assumed by our Protestant friends.  No, in reality it provided the place for people to find their way to salvation.  This in no way denigrates the Resurrection however, as it is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the fact of the Resurrection is a central truth that is handed on as a fundamental aspect of Tradition, and that it is to be proclaimed as an essential part of the Paschal Mystery in conjunction with the Cross (CCC 638). Unlike the cracks and derisive comments of some atheists, who call Easter "Zombie Jesus Day" and other such insulting names, the Resurrection provides the greatest dimension of our salvation as is sung by our Eastern Christian brethren in their liturgies when they proclaim, "Christ is risen from the dead, by death He trampled death, and to those in the tombs He bestoweth life!"   However, the Resurrection meant that the Church's work was just beginning, and the next 40 days following Christ's Resurrection would be a time of teaching and grooming the Apostles for their roles as leaders and teachers in the new Church.  The central focus of Jesus's teaching here is about the Kingdom, and the main objective He had was to prepare the Apostles for their public ministries.  This is important as well regarding the number of days, which we will now discuss.

Numbers and certain other things in Scripture have very important significance, and in the case of the number 40 it means that it is a time of preparation - Jesus prepared Himself with 40 days in the wilderness, and the Hebrews were sent on a 40-year trek in the wilderness to prepare them for entry into the land God had promised them. This 40-day period was no different, except now it was a formation period for the Apostles. 

The 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension were important due to some skepticism against His followers that had been evident just before His Passion - the Jewish Sanhedrin had called Jesus a blasphemer, and there were others who accused Him of demonic activity in regard to His miracles and other works.  But, His 40-day sojourn after the Resurrection allowed many to see Him alive in His body.  For 40 days, He eats and drinks with the disciples, and while doing so teaches them about the Kingdom.  However, His glory remains veiled by His appearance as ordinary man, and in this He had purpose as well. That purpose is beyond the scope of this question, so it can be dealt with elsewhere.

In Acts 1:3, we read that Jesus presents Himself to the Apostles as alive for 40 days after His Passion by many proofs.  The text reads that He gave many proofs of His being alive over a 40-day period, and that He also spoke of the kingdom of God.  Concerning this later part, Acts 8:12 shows that the Apostles, including the deacon St. Philip, would carry on that work, and in Acts 14:22 this is seen as an impetus for encouragement to remain true to the faith when adversity would inevitably strike. Then there are the "proofs."  First is His empty tomb, which we read in John 20:4-9 that the disciples understood as happening but not why it happened.  And, on the evening of His Resurrection, He presented Himself alive to the Apostles and other disciples on the road to Emmaus, which would be one of the pivotal experiences in this whole 40-day period. Look at my hands and feet.  It is I myself!  Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have."  This is of interest, because in their condition of intense grief, they may have easily thought they were seeing things when Jesus was among them, so He did that to sort of reassure them as well.  Traditional accounts say that more than 500 people witnessed Jesus as resurrected - I Corinthians 15:6 records that specifically, noting that at the time the Epistle was written, many of those people were still alive.  One of the most profound accounts though was the conversion of Saul on the Road to Damascus as recorded in Acts 9:1-9 - Saul, who had formerly been one of the most violent opponents of the Church, was converted through a personal encounter with Jesus Himself, and was then transformed into the Apostle St. Paul.  However, as we'll see, Jesus didn't appear to the Apostles first, and there are reasons given for that as well.
Jesus and disciples on Emmaus Road

He also invited eyewitnesses to touch His risen body and examine His wounds - the best example of this happening was the "doubting Thomas" encounter - He tells them in Luke 24:39 to "

Conversion of St. Paul

Mark 16:9-13 records that Jesus didn't appear to the Apostles initially.  For one thing, they didn't believe He had even resurrected until they saw Him later.  In the first part of Mark 16, it is recorded that He appeared to Mary Magdalene first and the Apostles didn't believe her.

He then appears on the Emmaus Road later, and they still didn't believe.  Jesus gets onto them about their unbelief, but that also reveals a demonstration of His mercy.  Despite their shortcomings, Jesus still will commission them to preach and baptize, and that reminds each of us that God is not looking for the perfect vessel to use, but rather for the willing vessel, even if it has cracks and chips in it. 

As the Emmaus Road encounter is more of the focus here, Jesus essentially gives an overview of salvation history, in other words presenting the core Kerygma.  The explanation of Jesus's own life and death in His own words was totally in the light of God's suffering servant (CCC 601) and this is the interpretation He gave to His disciples on the road to Emmaus.  The Resurrection is to be seen in the light of both Old Testament promises as well as what Jesus said during His earthly ministry, and the phrase "in accordance with the Scriptures" embodies the truth of the Resurrection fulfilling those promises (CCC 652).  His birth, in Matthew 1:23, for instance fulfills Isaiah 7:14.  His ministry in Matthew chapters 12 through 19 also is self-revelatory.  His death as well, as recorded in the Gospels in Matthew 12:40 as well as in Acts 2:24-28, was a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:13.  Finally, His Resurrection is noted in Matthew 12:40 and in Acts 2:24-28 as well.  Much of what Jesus taught, as we see in the Gospels, had very detailed fulfillment.  

Jesus revealing Himself to His disciples

Another aspect we want to look at now is in Luke 24:36-43.  After Jesus revealed Himself and assured the Apostles that He wasn't a spook, He asked for food, and when it was given to Him, He ate of it.  A familiar formula, something the Apostles would have recognized as well, is presented here - taking/blessing/breaking/giving (Luke 24:30).  This of course recalls the language of the Last Supper, and here the disciples are encountering Christ in a spiritual way, discerning His presence in the meal.  This also became a reflection of the Eucharistic liturgy of the Church as well.  The point made in this account, in particular the Emmaus Road encounter, was that Jesus definitely had a physical body still, but it was different now - it is no longer earthly, as it is glorified, and His humanity is no longer corruptible but is now endowed with spiritual qualities.  This will form a very foundational theology for the Eucharist as well, in that the elements of the Eucharist, when consecrated, become His Body and Blood too and are no longer merely earthly substance. 

The encounter with St. Peter is a very particular part of this 40-day period in that Jesus had some very specific lessons for him.  The account of this is given in John 21:15-17, where Jesus asks Peter three times about his love.  Peter reaffirms all three times, and it is seen as a personal restitution for the three denials Peter had voiced during Jesus's trial. What Jesus desired from Peter was a complete love, but Peter had yet to understand that, and again in His mercy Jesus settled for a close friendship by the end of the conversation.  Incorporated with this questioning of Peter's love was the entrusting to Peter of the task of shepherding His entire flock.  Peter is here given a unique share in the authority of Christ and would later be the visible head and chief Pastor to the whole Church. In John 21:9, the setting of this reaffirmation of Peter's love was also of significance - just as Peter had denied Christ three times in front of a fire, so now he was affirming love of Christ three times before a fire (note John 18:15-18 here as well).  Despite some of Peter's shortcomings though, Christ sees in Peter the perfect person to lead His Church, and therefore the significance of this shows both Christ's mercy as well as Peter's worthiness despite his imperfections. 

Jesus gives Peter task of "feeding His sheep"

Another important aspect of this catechetical dimension to the 40 days is what is commonly called the "Great Commission."  Found in Matthew 28:18-20, it is a fairly studied passage of Scripture, particularly among Evangelical Protestants who use it for justification of their doctrine of the "priesthood of the believer."  However, was this passage and its mandates intended for every believer, or was it more specific.  The Church's position on this is that the Commission was given to the Apostles and not to all disciples of Christ.  This is based on the audience to whom Jesus addressed it, as well as other more specific factors.  Beginning with the first two words in the passage - all authority - we see that first Jesus got the authority from the Father, by nature of being part of the Triune Godhead, to overcome death.  The Father's vindication of Jesus at the Resurrection gave Jesus authority over all creation.  Jesus then confers this authority to His Apostles to preach His Gospel and "make disciples" of all nations, mainly due to their being witnesses of His Resurrection.  There are therefore three very specific commands within the mandate contained in the Great Commission, and they are as follows:

1.  Go

2.  Make disciples of ALL nations

3.  Baptize in name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

These steps correspond to sacramental acts, and they constitute the first steps in a long process of sanctification and participation in the life of the Church.  Due to the sacramental nature of these commands, the Apostles then become dispensers of the sacraments.  He then promises to be with them (and their successors) until the end of the age.   This means some very significant things.  First, it means that the risen Christ's ongoing presence in the Church is both ecclesial and Eucharistic.  It is ecclesial in that the Apostles have the distinct attribute of being the chosen witnesses of the Resurrection, and although that cannot be transmitted, the authority of office is permanent and they are given that authority to choose successors to carry it on, which is why it is a divine mission that will continue until the end of time (CCC 860, LG 20).  Therefore, when two or three are gathered in Christ's name, the Church is established and He is in the midst (Matthew 18:20), and exercises His authority through the Apostles and their successors.  However, that presence is also Eucharistic, in that through the Eucharist He is indeed always with the successors to the Apostles through the ages.  That sacramental presence of Christ means that prayer is always possible and heard (CCC 2743).  His presence is evident in the Tabernacle of the altar of every church, as well as within the Word of Scripture, which was penned by the Apostles themselves.  It is also present through the episcopal office of the Church, who are given the task of governing, sanctification, and teaching the Church.  This authority is then the major factor in the catechetical work as well, as catechists transmit the Deposit of Faith to new disciples based on the teachings established by the Apostles themselves. 

Jesus gives the Great Commission to His Apostles

There is also an important relationship to be noted in the Great Commission - the relationship between Kerygma (the legacy of salvation) and Didache (discipleship and transmission of truth to others).  The Kerygma embodies the good news message of salvation offered to all people, and this is what helps us to celebrate the sacraments of salvation (Baptism, Unction, and Service - Holy Orders).  The role of Didache is to bring people into the life of the sacraments, and full participation in the life of the Church.  The "Apostolic Didache" is the prime vehicle of this, and it is so in what it contains as well as how it is formed.  The content of the Didache is of vital importance, and in I Timothy 6:20 those who are entrusted with it are to fiercely guard it.  It is not based on the personal whims and fancies of recipients, and is a matter of doctrine and not personal speculation or opinion. It is therefore received, and is not the product of discovery.  In II Thessalonians 2:15 we also see that it is a Tradition that is to be held onto and passed on, both in word and in writing.  Part of the Apostolic office requires the passing on of this Tradition to the next generation.  In John 21:25 the accuracy of the Gospel is affirmed, but it is also made clear that it is not exhaustive - the Gospels omit many things for a reason, and what they do contain is enough to elicit faith from their readers.  This is a fact that is also true of all Scripture.  The passage in John 21, for instance, notes that many aspects of Jesus's public ministry were not written in the Gospels, as it would be vast if done.   In the Old Testament as well, there are many details omitted from the Scriptural accounts, but they are contained in other books outside of Scripture, such as the Book of Enoch, Jasher, and Jubilees.  These books are what an Evangelical writer named Rob Skiba cleverly dubbed "Biblically-endorsed extra-Biblical texts," and here is what that means.  The information in books like Enoch is accurate (at least I personally believe so), but they are only included in certain Biblical canons (such as that of the Ethiopian Church, for instance).  Therefore, due to their historical accuracy and lack of conflict with canonical Scripture, they can be used for educational purposes as part of the extra-Biblical Tradition, although they are not on the same level as Scripture.  Scripture omits many details of certain things for the purpose of its focus on the Kerygma - the whole purpose of Scripture is that it is to communicate God's plan of salvation He unfolds to mankind, and every book in Scripture is ultimately focused on that purpose, which is why Scripture is what it is.  Biblical writers though did quote from the extra-Biblical sources - Jude is a good example, as many extensive passages are directly from the Book of Enoch, and at some point in the Gospels, Jesus Himself references Jasher.  But, the criteria of Scripture is its inspiration, and not merely its accuracy (although that is important as well).  This is why then Scripture at times may seem disconnected in some parts, but in reality the connection is the Spirit of God communicating His plan. 

The form of this is also important as well.  In Acts 2:42 we note that there is a form to the way the Gospel is communicated - doctrine and fellowship (Creed and morality), breaking of bread (Sacraments), and prayer.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church is structured along these same lines in order to communicate the Didache and Kerygma as well, and here are the sections of it:

1.  Profession of Faith (Creed) 
2.  Celebration of Christian Mystery (Sacraments)
3.  Life in Christ (Morality, Summary of the Law, Decalogue)
4.  Christian Prayer (Prayer, with significant example of the Our Father)

These four areas of faith form the basis of the Didache for transmitting the truth of the Kerygma.  And, they form the skeleton of the Christian life, as well as the life of the Church. 

From Easter to Pentecost then, we see Christ acting through the Sacraments (called Sacramental Economy) first of all.  We also see the Word becoming Flesh in the Incarnation.  In the Paschal Mystery, Jesus atones for our sins.  And finally, we have the role of the Church as conveying the authority Christ gave her through the successors of the Apostles to her faithful.  The Sacraments come from the Paschal Mystery, and although the gates of heaven are closed by our sin, the Paschal Mystery opens the gates and we are nourished by Jesus Himself with Himself (in the Eucharist).  

In summary, Christ poured Himself into the Apostles. In doing so, He gave them the task of passing down the Word/Tradition to others. And, He commissioned the Apostles to build His Church.  Therefore, if it were not for the Apostles, there would be a disconnect with Christian events, and most of what we see and hear would amount to mere hearsay.  That being said, the Church is not an afterthought of Christ's work, and it was established because His Apostles were given by the Holy Spirit both the courage to proclaim the Gospel and the ability to proclaim it in such a way that it could be understood and accepted.  The lesson for the Church today, therefore, is that we must also rely on the Holy Spirit for everything we need to live out the vocations Christ endowed us with.  And, that essentially is what the intense discipleship Christ gave to His Apostles after His Resurrection was about.  Take care until next time. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

My Journey to a Comp Exam - What I Have Learned Part VI

As I embark on the sixth part of this series, I am still in preparation for the comprehensive exam I have for my Master's program, and that exam is in January 2018.  I am writing this series of articles based on the questions I will need to know for the exam, and this one happens to be what is called Historical Foundations.  There is a lot entailed in this area, and therefore it will be well-illustrated as well as documented.  

Again, my appreciation to Patti Christensen for organizing the collaborative effort among all of us to prepare for this, and the outline I am using for the "skeleton" of this part of the series is the effort of two of my classmates, Sister Andrew Marie, and Nancy Duey.  They both did a fantastic job with the effort they put into condensing the material into a systematic form, and as with the other sections I will be using their outline as the framework to write this article.  

The history of Christianity is complex, and it entails a lot of very specific information that addresses key issues and events in the growth and development of the Christian faith.  In the particular course, the professor divided that history into four distinct eras, and they each had their own challenges, their own key figures, and each also entailed the development of essential doctrines and schools of thought that impacted Christianity for centuries to come.  The purpose of the first part of this is to focus on some key issues from each era.

The first era to be discussed is the era of Patristics, which lasted from roughly the Ascension of Christ until the 9th century AD.  This was an era that was shaped by two main things.  In the earlier centuries of this era, persecution had an impact on the growth of the Church, and the overarching testimony is its amazing growth and spread despite tremendous adversity from the ruling Roman authorities of the time.  As Christianity eventually did "conquer" the Roman Empire and persecution ceased, a new issue came up as the Church was now able to codify its beliefs, and that was the rise of heresies.  In this outline, we'll deal with those first, and then come back to the effects of persecution.

Heresies tended to bear both good and bad fruit.  The bad fruit was that many people embraced doctrines and practices that were in contradiction to what the Bible and the Church held, and therefore many people either left on their own accord as a result or they were excommunicated and condemned for that heresy.  However, the good fruit of heresy is that it helped the Church define her doctrines better, and therefore the scourge of heresy may have been used of God to give the Church an idea of what she truly believed, as well as weeding out "tares" in the "field of harvest."  There are at least three major heresies that were addressed by major Ecumenical Councils that were called in the 4th and 5th centuries, and those are the source of the discussion now.

The first major council that dealt with issues of doctrine was the Council of Nicaea which was convened in AD 325.  The main purpose of this council was to address a new heresy that was being spread by a bishop named Arius, and that heresy entailed two different aspects.  Arius (250-336AD) was actually a presbyter of the Church in Alexandria, and in 318 he began to trigger controversy over his unorthodox views on the Trinity (Prokurat, Golitzin, and Peterson, ed. Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church. Lanham, MD:  Scarecrow Press, 1996. p. 42).  Therefore, the heresy of Arius focused on how we understand three Persons being in one God.  The problem was complicated by not so much common convictions of the time, but rather how they were articulated - the East, for instance, emphasized the distinction of the three Persons.  While correct in doing that, the weakness here was in the formulation; it was couched in language that made the Persons of the Godhead subordinate rather than equal.  Likewise, in the West, the problem was not how the West believed - the West rightly emphasized the unity of the Godhead.  But, there was a problem here as well - the West's language in articulation of that essential fact could be weakened potentially in that it could insinuate splitting the Godhead into three separate beings (or tritheism) rather than keeping them as one.  Arius's approach to the problem was to take away the deity of Christ the Son, which led to outright heresy and rightly garnered condemnation.  Arius's reasoning was that the Son was created by the Father to serve as the latter's instrument in creation and redemption (ibid.).  This centered as well around the term Homouisios, which articulated that the Father and Son were of the same substance, an idea that Arius had problems with and that his issues garnered support for him from many Alexandrians.  However, the language of the Homouisios was adopted in AD 381 at the Council of Constantinople, and this was incorporated into what is commonly called the Nicene Creed that many of us confess at Mass every Sunday.  The one important thing about heresies is that they never are original, and they tend to emerge in different forms in later centuries - we then call the resulting movements cults.   In the case of the Arian heresy, it has resurrected in the past couple of centuries in the form of a number of cultic groups, and here are some examples.  In the Mormon religion, for instance, they teach that the three Persons of the Godhead are three separate beings, and that God is only an exalted man, and the Holy Spirit is depersonalized totally - The Holy Spirit is subordinate to Jesus, but Jesus is subordinate to the Father (Mark J. Cares, Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing, 1993. p. 273).  This is articulated in Mormon theology as what is called the "Adam/God Doctrine."  Jehovah's Witnesses likewise hold to some Arian convictions, including that Jesus pre-existed as Michael the Archangel, and is thus a created being - he is for Jehovah's Witnesses, the Son of God but not God the Son (Everett Hullum, ed. Beliefs of Other Kinds. Atlanta: Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, 1983. p. 81).   Another cult, the Way International, denies Jesus's preexistence and says that the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 was the result of "pagan influence," and thus they also deny Christ is God and the Holy Spirit is a person (Hullum, p. 92).  Another group that also carries on the Arian heretical tradition is the Unitarian-Universalist Church, which doesn't view Jesus as divine, and therefore there is no salvation in Christ according to them (Hullum, p. 60).  Unitarians are perhaps the most Arian of all these cults, in that much of their own theology can be traced back to the 16th-century Spanish Arianist Servetus.  The views of Arius, however, are rightly condemned by all actual Christian traditions - Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox.  We owe much today to St. Athanasios, as well as the Armenian Saint Gregory Nazianzus, for rescuing the Church from Arius and his heretical teachings, and they were instrumental in getting the Council of Constantinople to codify orthodox Trinitarianism as well as the deity of Christ in the Creeds.

St. Athanasios of Alexandria, champion of Trinitarian Orthodoxy

The next major issue that arose involved the question of how Jesus could be both fully human and fully divine, and this would lead to a codification of the hypostatic union of Jesus as both human and divine at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431.  Again, the question centered around how two theological schools within the Church defined the doctrine.  The Alexandrian School, for instance, emphasized a close union between Christ's divinity and His humanity, while the Antiochene School emphasized a distinction between the two natures to avoid confusion.  In the midst of this debate rose a bishop of Ephesus named Nestorius, who was a pupil of the more orthodox Assyrian Theodore of Mopsuestia, but Theodore was weak in his explanation of the completeness of Christ's humanity, which cast doubt over the hypostatic union of Christ as fully human and fully God.  In AD 428, Nestorius denied that the Virgin Mary could rightly be called the Theotokos, and thus should only be considered the Christotokos (Prokurat, Golitzen, and Peterson, p. 85).  Many Alexandrians were converts to Nestorius's views, and it caused such a problem that in AD 431 the Council of Ephesus was called to address the issue.  The Council condemned Nestorius's view that Mary was only the mother of Christ's human nature and not His divine nature, and affirmed Mary as the Theotokos and mother of the person Jesus, who is fully God and fully man.  Nestorius's followers, mostly in Mesopotamia and largely ethnic Assyrians, formed their own Church at that point which today is still known as the Assyrian Church of the East.  However, as a positive note, in 1995 Pope St. John Paul II and the Assyrian Catholicos Mar Khananiah Dinkha signed a Common Christological Agreement which established a sort of Communio in Sacris between both Churches, and for the most part the Assyrian Church now accepts orthodox Christology. 

The third major issue was related to Christology but sort of went opposite of Nestorius, and this led to an issue that was addressed at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451.  That council centered around the teachings of Eutyches, an archimandrite of the Church in Constantinople who advocated a union of God and man in Christ (Prokurat, Golitzen, and Peterson, p. 85).  Although Eutyches was a very vocal opponent of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus, he went to the other extreme of even denying Jesus was truly human, but rather a unique "God-man" who transcended humanity.  His followers would later be called "Monophysites" and would encompass a large portion of the Syriac-speaking Christian community (Western Assyrians), the Armenians, the Copts in Egypt, and their daughter Churches in Ethiopia, India, and Georgia (although Georgia later accepted the Chalcedonian decision). Prokurat and cohort in their text say though that this was not so much a heresy as it was a schism, and in 1973 the Coptic Pope Shenouda III signed a common Christological agreement with Pope Paul VI, and for the most part the "Oriental" Churches today embrace a more orthodox Christology as a whole.  Much of the credit for clarifying the doctrine, however, was to go to Pope Leo the Great, whose response to Eutyches served as the basis for the doctrinal definition of the Council.

Pope St. Leo the Great, who helped define orthodox Christology at the Council of Chalcedon by his refutation of Eutyches

Now that we have dealt with heresies and schisms, we come back to the early adversity faced by Christians in the formative centuries of the Church's existence.  There were many reasons why Christians encountered persecution first from Jewish authorities in Judea, where it started, and later from Roman authorities as it spread throughout the Empire.  The one thing noted in the outline was that although Christians performed commendable works, they were also suspected of being a secret society.  Secret societies made the Roman authorities a little gunshy because the true secret and clandestine groups (one being the Essenes in Judea) had a potential to incite unrest against Imperial authority.  Also, because of their doctrine of the Eucharist, Christians were wrongly assumed to be "cannibals" due to the fact they took Jesus's command to "eat His Body and drink His Blood" seriously, and this was often misunderstood as literal rather than as the mystery of faith that the Church taught.  Ironically though, Christians would later accuse Jews of the same thing - rumors in medieval times, for instance, alleged that Jews kidnapped Christian children and used their blood to make matzoh (Deborah Wigoder and Rabbi Ben Isaacson, eds. The International Jewish Encyclopedia. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-Hall, 1973. p. 16, 234), also known as "blood libel."  One of the unfortunate side effects at times of the Church gaining acceptance is that some among its professed members spread horrific allegations in order to sanctify and justify anti-semitism, but anti-semitism has always been condemned by the Church, and these actions in no way constitute official Church teaching.  And, for those professing Christianity who would believe such garbage, they need to look at how pagan Romans used to view us.  It sheds a whole other dimension on this issue for sure.  A third unjust allegation against Christians by the Roman authorities was sexual immorality, which is ironic due to the fact that many of the accusers were more debauched than any Christian ever was.  However, sex rites were actually a part of what were called "mystery religions" of the time, including temple prostitutes at Ephesus in Diana's temple (the same one Paul encountered in Acts) and also rampant ritual homosexual acts by such cults as the Mithraic sect.  Due to the fact that Christians were often persecuted, they had to meet in secret, and were often due to their isolation thought of as just another one of those "mystery religions," which in reality they had little in common with.  Another allegation that was brought against Christians often was a trumped-up charge of "atheism."  This stemmed from two things.  First, the refusal of Christians to worship Roman state gods or the Emperor made them suspect.  Secondly, as former Anglican writer David Bercot points out in his book Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up (Tyler, TX:   Scroll Publishing, 1989), Christians at that time had no organized temples or images of any god, so they were assumed to be atheistic as a result (Bercot, p. 2).  These allegations naturally intensified persecution against the Christians, but it also served to make them grow, as it encouraged two things we will discuss next. 

First, with persecution came martyrdom for many Christians, as many were so committed to their faith that they accepted death rather than denying Christ.  A vivid example is recorded by David Bercot regarding St. Polycarp when he was martyred in an arena.  When the procounsel who was "judging" his case threatened to unleash wild beasts on St. Polycarp, his response was simply "Unleash them then!  Who has heard of repenting from what is good in order to follow what is evil?"  Keep in mind that St. Polycarp was 86 years old at this point, and when the procounsel saw that a fear of wild animals didn't work on the old saint, he threatened fire instead, to which St. Polycarp said, "You threaten me with a mere fire that burns for an hour and then goes out. Have you not heard of the fire of coming judgment and of the eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly?  Why do you keep delaying? Do whatever you want with me!"  (Bercot, p. 3).  Rather than being a means of intimidating other Christians, martyrdoms like this inspired them instead.  Another fruit of the persecution was the development of the discipline of apologetics.  With so many allegations about what Christians were alleged to be doing, the need for a sound defense was evident in light of many false accusations.  Through the efforts of those like St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, and others, the discipline of apologetics became integral to the Christian faith, and would also play a role later on in refuting heresies. 

Artistic rendering of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp

We now move forward many centuries to the Protestant Reformation, and as discussed in Part IV, much of what the Protestant Reformation has birthed has also led to a rise in secularism as well concerning a philosophical/social context.  The main impetus of Protestant Reformers was a protest against what they perceived (correctly, in some cases) as abuses within the Church.  However, the problem was, with the possible exception of the English Reformation, that the Reformers took this to an extreme and even a rejection of all things "Popish," even discarding the good with the bad.  The whole thing started with Luther, who we will discuss first.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Although the Eastern Orthodox differ on this, the Protestant Reformation was not so much a heresy as it was a schism, and as such there are actually many cardinal doctrines of the undivided Church that the Protestants maintained.  However, there were also major differences, and one of those centered around the justification vs. works issue.  Luther, like many of his theological descendants, believed that only Christ could justify, and that works had no part in it.  This was actually a misunderstanding on his part of the definition of salvation itself as well as the role of works - Luther, and more radically in later centuries his disciples, would reduce salvation from a process to an event, equating it with conversion.  In doing this, the need for works was either ignored or written out completely, and this led to some other problems.  Luther was essentially failing to understand that works did not make salvation, but rather were a fruit of supernatural grace that should be manifest as a result of conversion and the pilgrimage of salvation.  Instead, as he redefined salvation as a one-time event, for him it was only gained through Christ alone (which is partially correct) and (also correctly) was a free gift offered by Him.  While there is much truth in that conviction, it fails to commit the individual Christian to the task of willingly submitting to God's will to allow supernatural grace to aid in the transformative process - this was something Wesley tried to correct later, but was still largely lacking with his followers as well.  Luther also rejected indulgences as a whole due to some abusive practices associated with them, and he also rejected the Scholastic tradition that had rich roots in the works of Aquinas and others.  As a matter of fact, education actually began to suffer as a result of Luther's schismatic revolt, and as Fr. John Laux notes in his book Church History (Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 2012), a gradual decay of education resulted from Luther's actions, although he himself lamented it in his writings (Laux, pp. 435-436).  In a sort of Newtonian process, Luther's reaction against legitimate excesses of the Church would later lead to a rejection of both Papal authority and the Ecumenical Councils, as they were replaced with the idea of Sola Scriptura.  The problem with this, however, was that now it was not so much Sola Scriptura as it was the various interpretations of Scripture that conflicting opinions were allowed to run rampant with, and this would lead to both Enlightenment-era rationalism infecting theology, as well as the theological liberalism that would contribute to the downfall of many mainline Protestant denominations in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Their "conservative" heirs, the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, are starting to be likewise affected by this same mindset in the 21st century.  If one takes away grounding and moorings, the resulting adrift state of theology and Biblical studies then begins to have disastrous consequences.  Compared to other Reformers though, Luther would be mild, as we will now see.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)

In 1516, a Swiss priest from Einsieden, Switzerland, began preaching some radical and negative doctrines - he preached against the Virgin Mary and against pilgrimages to holy places.  He was then banished for his abherrent views and found his way to Zurich, where he began preaching his own version of Sola Scriptura (Laux, p. 434)Zwingli would become the "herald" of what would be called the "Radical Reformation" as he would go further than Luther did to divorce himself from the Church, and his convictions are largely similar to many Evangelical Protestants today.  On many things, Zwingli did remain orthodox in doctrine - for instance, although he railed against Mary, he also did believe her to be Ever-Virgin, which is what the Church had historically taught (Luther did likewise, as later did Wesley).  But, it was in other areas where Zwingli was problematic, and those are what we will deal with here.  First, Zwingli launched a crusade to essentially eliminate anything not specifically found in Scripture - this was now taking Sola Scriptura to an entirely new level, in that many things the Church did practice were not specifically mentioned in Scripture, but were part of the Tradition of the Church that was handed down by the Apostles.  This of course would later mean a radically altered interpretation of some aspects of Scripture (again affirming that true Sola Scriptura does not exist, but is rather the whims and fancies of the one reading the passage) to the point that certain "Catholic" practices (the use of incense, for one example) would be allegorized, and even a quasi-Gnostic understanding of signs and symbols that viewed anything material as "worldly" and "evil" would become a hallmark of Zwingli's successors, in particular the Anabaptists and later Evangelicals.  This being said, sacramental grace was irrelevant to Zwingli, and therefore the Eucharist, infant baptism, and other sacraments were radically redefined to mesh with his reading of Scripture.  The Eucharist in particular suffered Zwingli's scrutiny in that he reduced it to a mere memory-meal and denied the Real Presence. His views still carry implications to this day, as the modern "Emerging Church" proponents among Protestant Evangelicals - people such as Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and others - have taken this to new depths.  And, it has caused a disconnect among Protestants that has also fostered a sort of "spiritual amnesia" that is reflected in their prayer life and worship. 

A third group of "Reformers" were more or less modern Arians, and owed much to the legacy of Michael Servetus and others - these would be the Socinians.  The Socinians rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ as well as His Incarnation, and unlike other Reformers they actually did become heretical.  They grew from a movement called the Polish Brethren that in turn grew out of the work of one Fausto Sozzini (1539-1604), after whom the movement was named ("Socinianism," at, September 7, 2017.  Accessed October 20, 2017).  Sozzini was an Italian theologian who eventually settled in Poland, and with Servetus in Spain he could also be considered a key figure in the development of Unitarianism later. He and his followers denied almost every cardinal Christian doctrine, including original sin, and in time Sozzini was beaten up by mobs in 1598, and died in 1604 from an illness resulting as a complication of those beatings. 

Fausto Sozzini (1539-1604)

The final Reformer to discuss probably had the most impact negatively on the Reformation, and that of course was John Calvin.

John Calvin (1509-1564)

Protestant Evangelicals - at least 50% of them - revere John Calvin as almost a saint, and his role on the Reformation and influence on Protestantism for decades to come cannot be underestimated.  Calvin was also one of the first to codify his doctrine by what is known as the "TULIP" acrostic, and it looks like this"

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistable Grace
Perserverence of the Saints

That whole scheme would define Calvin's convictions for centuries to come, and although some (such as Baptists and more moderate Presbyterians) have softened it somewhat, that scheme still remains cardinal to the theology of many Evangelicals.  The one in particular has to do with the L in the "TULIP," and without getting into a lot of biographical details of Calvin or other specifics, we will address this one first.  Limited atonement, to Calvin and many of his later disciples, translated to one thing - double predestination.  What that meant was that some were predestined to spend eternity in hell, while others are elected to go to heaven, and there was nothing anyone could do to change that. This second aspect of double predestination then led to the U in "TULIP," which is unconditional election - no matter what one does, if you are predestined to heaven you are going, and that is why the "P"- perserverance of the saints - comes into play here; to redefine it in modern terminology, perserverance of the saints translates as "once saved, always saved."  And, as free will and chance were looked at by Calvin as illusionary, this meant that the sovereignty of God was over-emphasized to the extent that free will was not even possible.  And, naturally that followed that nothing is reversible - if it is predestined, then it has to be.  There are many, many problems with this scheme, and it really creates a conflict with a believer in Sola Scriptura, as verses like John 3:16 stand in utter contrast to this scheme.  That is why more moderate Calvinists - such as many Baptists - have had to redefine some of Calvin's "TULIP" to fit with evangelistic endeavors, and in the 18th and 19th centuries that caused some problems among Baptists in particular when the "Primitives" who were strict Calvinists split from the more evangelistic-minded "Missionary" Baptists.  

The bottom line here is that the Reformation created a whole hornet's nest of theological and later political and social issues, and much of the fruit is still being seen today.  But, thankfully, there were true Catholic reformers as well, and those will be discussed briefly.

St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)

One thing the Reformers did bring to light was the fact that there were indeed some abuses and problems in the Church, and they did need to be addressed.  It must be understood that the Church, although a holy institution, is also subject to the human limitations of her leaders at times, and it is important to understand that human beings, even among the clergy, can and do fall.  Many faithful Catholics who were loyal to the Church saw this too, and one of those was St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish military man who later was consecrated to religious life.  When he was engaged in a military campaign, Ignatius received a bad injury and was forced to recover.  While in convalescence, he began his own independent study of the lives of the saints and of Christ, and it led to a personal conversion.  As a fruit of his conversion, Ignatius was led to found a religious order that we know today as the Jesuits, and it was an order marked at its beginnings by loyalty to the Church and to the Pope in particular, as well as producing great educators and missionaries.  They became, in a true sense, warriors in defense of the Faith.  Unfortunately, in recent decades many Jesuits have fallen into theological liberalism, and no longer reflect St. Ignatius's vision, and that can be evidenced in some of the institutions of learning they founded.  One in particular is a Jesuit college in my home state of West Virginia, and I can testify of classmates who went into that school as altarboys and came out atheists.  Now, not all Jesuits are guilty of this, as there are still many fine priests who are faithful to the Magisterium - Fr. Mitch Pacwa comes to mind here.  But, as an order, the Jesuits don't often reflect the great heritage of St. Ignatius, and that is unfortunate. 

There were other stellar figures of the Counter-Reformation as well, such as St. Peter Canisius, who authored a magnificent Catechism that even garnered the respect of Protestants for its Biblical fidelity.  Additionally, there was St. Robert Bellarmine, who participated in the Council of Trent and also had many influential works that he had written.  And, there was St. Philip Neri, who led perhaps what was one of the greatest renewal movements in the Church.  Also of note were mystics, such as the reforming Carmelite St. Teresa of Avila and also St. John of the Cross.  France likewise produced St. Francis de Sales, whose prolific writings contributed much to the Church, and St. Vincent de Paul, who as "Champion of the Poor" is still synonymous with the virtue of charity.  However, St. Vincent was also known as a proponent of priestly renewal as well, as he organized retreats and also addressed ways to alleviate growing ignorance and abuse among clergy.  Many seminaries as well could be attributed to his work.  These and many others show an effort of the Church to take responsibility for where it had fallen short in some areas, and perhaps the one positive fruit of the Reformation was an awareness that the Church needed to present a better witness of itself to the society it was called to reach out to.  Therefore, good fruit resulted from even the scourge of schism.

This is pretty much a summary of the two areas I wanted to focus on, although there is a whole other section to this question I didn't address.  Next week, I will have Part VII ready to share.