Category Archives: Roman Catholicism

The one true church of the Apocalypse, or the harlot of Revelation? You decide.

The Complicated Business of the “Tradition”

@DaleMCoulter muses on his students:

The task was not to defend the tributary of Christianity in which my students had first touched the waters of baptism, but to show them that it was fed by a vast river stretching back two millennia. In short, I defended Christianity by helping them swim upstream so that they could discover just how deep and wide Christian Tradition was. Through a confrontation with full-throated Christianity, students had the resources to criticize the stream to which they belonged while also locating that tradition within the great river of Christian Tradition. It was a matter, then, of introducing them to the differences between tradition and Tradition.

As someone who has drawn from several “streams” of Christianity, there’s good news and bad news about this.

The good news is that is works.  As Coulter notes, most people are raised on a single track of Christianity.  That’s all they see and that’s all they know.  Once you see “how the other half lives” (and when you make leaps across the socio-economic and ethnic as well as theological divides in Christianity, that broadens your perspective too) you grasp the greater truth and not just what you’ve been taught.

The bad news is that, once you’ve done this, you’re an ecclesiastical orphan.  Denominations and groups have their own idea, and once you’ve taken in other ideas, you’re never really a part.   I think that’s one reason there are so many people who go through church dissatisfied.  It’s not that they don’t believe, many are quite fervent.  It’s just that they’ve experienced other things that they don’t see where they’re at.

How that plays out depends upon what part of Christianity you’re in.  Some groups are big on uniformity; you can get in trouble in a hurry.  OTOH, in a Pentecostal church, I’m always surprised at the issues I bloviate on (abolition of civil marriage, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the lack of real authority in the church) that never get a rise.

The key, of course, is to keep the main thing the main thing.

The Sign of Peace and Those “Happy-Clappy” Masses

Amidst the sorrow and tragedy that dominates the news these days, the Vatican weighs in on a matter that may seem trivial to some:

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) has urged the church’s bishops to crack down on boisterous exchanges of peace during the Eucharist service. In a letter dated 8 June 2014 and approved by Pope Francis the previous day, the CDW asked bishops guide their priests in the proper celebration of the Roman rite and to discourage “familiar and worldly gestures of greeting” which should be substituted with “other, more appropriate gestures.”

First, with due respect (and congrats on his new parish appointment) to my fellow Palm Beacher George Conger, the title of his piece is a little misleading.  “Happy-clappy” implies what they do in Charismatic churches with the praise and worship time that is de rigeur these days.  Thanks to OCP, there’s not much of that in Roman Catholicism.  Their job (in the U.S. at least) is to insure that music to accompany the sacred mysteries is banal and uninspiring, and they’re good at it too.

And a lot of praise and worship music isn’t as happy as you’d like to think.  If you want to see where it’s going, just visit a youth group service now and you’ll see what it will be like ten years from now.  The system is set up so that what’s in youth group today becomes “from the throne room” in a few years.  And a lot of that sound has been baleful, minor key stuff, sounding like a buffalo that has been ineptly shot and waiting for the hapless hunter to finish him off.

But I digress.  The issue of happiness, however, is a big one.  There is a surprisingly large body of Christians who, while aspiring to the summum bonum that’s around the real throne room, push back at the idea that happiness is what we’re really aiming for, the success of the entertainment and leisure industry notwithstanding.

One major exception to that is the Catholic bishop Jaques-Benigne Bossuet,  who made happiness a leitmotif in an age where it was decidedly scarce.  At the start of his Meditations on the Gospel he flatly stated that “Man’s chief aim in life is to be happy”.  Elsewhere he says that God himself is happy, an idea well supported (if not well noted) in the New Testament.  But I guess that’s one reason Mother Church never canonised him and has largely forgotten him.

So what does that have to do with the sign of peace?  The Church can whine about “effusive” expressions of the sign of peace all it wants, but if they’re genuine they state two things: the congregants are happy and in fellowship with each other.  Penitential needs considered, both of these should characterise Christian gatherings as opposed to, say, those that happen in a mosque.  Bossuet is clear that the greatest happiness if found in Jesus Christ; if people can’t find their joy in his church, they’ll find it somewhere else.

That was certainly the case in the years I was at Texas A&M in our Newman Association, where the sign of peace was a highlight at our masses.  Growing up with “God’s frozen chosen”, the warm greetings at our Masses (with a more ethnically diverse group, I might add) were a special treat.  In those days Roman Catholicism was a pleasure in a way that no form of Christianity has been for me before or since.

But that brings me to the second issue: community.  I’ve said many times that Roman Catholicism leans too heavily on the sacramental system to bond its people to God and itself.  Today many in the Church wonder how to get parishes past the box-checker mentality.  Vatican II was concerned with this issue too.  Although there’s a lot to this, discouraging effusive signs of peace at Mass isn’t a very good way to address this issue.

And while we’re thinking about sacraments, the emphasis on formality these days, while seeming to underscore the authority of the church and the validity of the sacraments, actually may undermine both.  As I noted years ago:

Anglo-Catholicism always liked a “frillier” form of Christianity, presumably because it looked and felt good and because it helped to drive home the sacredness of what they were doing.  Roman Catholicism can certainly do the ceremonial when the occasion calls for it, but the efficacy of the sacraments is driven by the nature of the church, not because of how elaborately the sacred mysteries are celebrated.

I think that the Church needs to think a few things through before they create another institution full of “God’s chosen frozen”.

@holysmoke: The “un-English and un-Manly” Hit the Wall

Translated, Church of England Anglo-Catholics:

From the moment the General Synod voted for women priests in 1992, it was inevitable that it would also vote for women bishops…Conservative Anglo-Catholics now face a simple choice: stay in an established Church that has reaffirmed its liberal Protestantism by this vote, or seek full communion with Rome, either as ordinary Catholics or as members of a self-governing Ordinariate that celebrates Mass in Cranmerian English.

Couldn’t have said it better myself, although I’ve tried before.

The “un-English and un-Manly” business comes from David Hilliard’s brilliant piece on nineteenth century Anglo-Catholicism and homosexuality.  But as Damian Thompson goes on to point out:

I hope they move to Rome, but I can understand why many Anglo-Catholics – especially those in gay partnerships – will find it easier to stay put. I just wish they’d ditch the pretence of being Roman Catholics in all but name. Last week I saw their leader, Bishop Jonathan Baker of Fulham, swanning down Notting Hill Gate in a bright pink Roman soutane. I bet Jorge Bergoglio never wore such a garment in the streets of Buenos Aires. And it did make me think that, these days, Anglo-Catholicism is mostly about dressing up.

Some things never change.

So Who Are My Mother and My Brothers? Part II

The oldest Pentecostal educational institution that I am aware of is the Holmes Bible College in Greenville, SC.  For many years Dr. Paul F. Beacham was its President, impacting the lives of many of his students.  In his 1950 book Questions and Answers on the Scriptures and Related Subjects (published by the Pentecostal Holiness Church publishing house), he makes a very interesting statement, which I will cite in its entirety:

Q. Did Jesus have any brothers and sisters?

From my study of the matter in question, it is my opinion that Jesus did not have any half brothers and sisters in the flesh.  I know there are people who feel that they have good reason not to accept the idea that I hold, but I feel that while it does not eliminate all questions, there is more support for this than any other view of it.  Without enlarging too much upon the subject, I mention two reasons for holding to the view I have expressed.  First, if the four men and sisters were the children of Mary, this would mean that at least six children were born after Christ, and were grown up sufficiently to be generally known when Jesus was about thirty-one years of age.  This, of course, might have been possible, but I hardly think it is probable.  Second, it hardly seems reasonable that when Jesus was crucified He would have committed His mother to the care of John if there had been several of her own children who could have cared for her.  Since the question is debatable, it is fortunate that no one’s salvation depends upon it, but I have given my opinion.  The persons mentioned as brothers, could have been children of Joseph by a former marriage, but I rather think they were cousins with whom Jesus grew up.  Lot was the nephew of Abraham, but he is called his brother, which was not out of harmony with their manner of expressing relationship (Gen. 13:8, 14:14).

 It is interesting to compare this to Jerome:

You say that the mother of the Lord was present at the cross, you say that she was entrusted to the disciple John on account of her widowhood and solitary condition: as if upon your own showing, she had not four sons, and numerous daughters, with whose solace she might comfort herself? You also apply to her the name of widow which is not found in Scripture. And although you quote all instances in the Gospels, the words of John alone displease you. You say in passing that she was present at the cross, that you may not appear to have omitted it on purpose, and yet not a word about the women who were with her. I could pardon you if you were ignorant, but I see you have a reason for your silence… In Genesis (Genesis 13:8, 11) we read, And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray you, between me and you, and between my herdmen and your herdmen; for we are brethren. And again, So Lot chose him all the plain ofJordan, and Lot journeyed east: and they separated each from his brother. Certainly Lot was not Abraham’s brother, but the son of Abraham’s brother Aram. ForTerah begot Abraham and Nahor and Aram: and Aram begot Lot. Again we read, (Genesis 12:4And Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out ofHaran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son. But if you still doubt whether a nephew can be called a son, let me give you an instance. (Genesis 14:14) And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen. And after describing the night attack and the slaughter, he adds, And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot(Against Helvidius, 15, 16)

Obviously Beacham is not arguing for Mary’s perpetual virginity.  But a necessary prerequisite for that idea is that Our Lord be only-begotten in both of his natures.   It is the rare Protestant who will assert that Jesus’ brothers, so designated in the New Testament, are not in fact the sons of Joseph and Mary.

My “Part I” of this discussion is here.

David Moyer Does the Right Thing

By throwing the towel in as a priest:

During “The Watch” on Maundy Thursday, I did what I said I would do – in giving to our Lady (as Father Jay Hughes did) my priesthood. Whether I can resume it is up to God in Christ who called me to it many years ago. But in the reality of the present (and I don’t mean this to be some form of theological gymnastics for my benefit), “priesthood,” when a man is called to it, manifests itself in many ways – not just in liturgical ways, and in a designated position of parochial oversight for a particular parish church.

I’ve taken to criticism of some of the more interesting characters in the Anglican/Episcopal drama, and one of them is David Moyer.  His saga with the Episcopal Church was an ordeal, and his attempt to enter the Roman Catholic Church as a priest was blocked by Fr. Jeffrey Steenson, Ordinary for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.  But now he has accepted Fr. Steenson’s conditions and entered the Church as a layman.

I’ve written a lot lately about high-profile Tiber swimmings (like this and this) but Moyer’s case is a little different, coming through the Anglo-Catholic world.  But I think it meet and right to note someone who took the advice I gave another wandering Anglo-Catholic, John Hepworth:

There’s life after ministerial credentials, to use the broad term.  These days it’s not hard to make an impact on the Christian world without credentials/ordination, just look at the Anglican blogosphere.  More importantly, though, your relationship with God is more important than the position you hold in the church or the colour of the shirt you wear.  Don’t blow the former for the sake of the latter, for you or anyone else.

In doing this, he’s also put his convictions ahead of his personal desires.  I believe God will honour that, and pray that David Moyer and his family will find blessings and peace in the Saviour.

P.S. The post re Moyer’s stepping down deleted several comments re John Hepworth, which is still, I suppose, an ongoing saga.

Tea Party Ivy-Leaguer Beats Eric Cantor

In the moderate panic (are people who are really moderates supposed to panic?  isn’t that for emotionalist extremists? ) this is easy to overlook about Dave Brat, the Roman Catholic economic professor who upset Eric Cantor in the Republican primary for his U.S. House seat:

Brat, who is Catholic, got his masters from Princeton Theological Seminary, an institution that, according to its mission statement, “prepares women and men to serve Jesus Christ in ministries marked by faith, integrity, scholarship, competence, compassion, and joy, equipping them for leadership worldwide in congregations and the larger church, in classrooms and the academy, and in the public arena.”

First, I hope that my more liberal seminary academic friends note his Princeton pedigree.

Second, it’s getting to the point where the only way the Tea Party can really get ahead is to do it the same way everyone else does in politics: put up Ivy Leaguers.  The most famous Ivy Leaguer in the Tea Party is of course Ted Cruz, who (by virtue of his educational background) is probably the only Republican candidate with a shot at the White House in 2016.

That’s just the way it is in American politics.

A Clarification on My Position on Civil Marriage

Those of you who follow my Twitter feed noted an link to a CNBC article about why my contemporaries are cohabiting in their dotage.  I sensed a little pushback on Facebook on this, so I think that, in my advocacy for the abolition of civil marriage, some clarification is in order.

I do not think that it is “meet and right” (or “dignum et iustum” for you BCP and Latin fans) for people to have conjugal relations outside of Holy Matrimony, to say nothing of cohabitation.  The key there is “holy matrimony”; neither do I think that civil marriage and holy matrimony are one in the same.  The institution of marriage took place long before the formation of the state.  Since God made this institution, it makes sense that, in the current covenant, Christian people who are married in the sight of God should do so in the context of the church.  (That gets into the whole church authority issue; I’ve put it as broadly as I know how).

I think it is a serious mistake of Christian leaders to lose sight of that simple fact.  They have fought the battle for “traditional marriage” under the assumption that the state has the right to legitimise marriage (as have their opponents).  They have not understood that to have the power to legitimise marriage is the power to redefine it.  We have seen this in the changes in divorce, and learned nothing from that experience.  Now we are attempting to fend off same-sex civil marriage when we gave away the fundamental principle up front.

To make matters worse, the fear is out there that the government will force our ministers to officiate same-sex marriages.  That fear is well founded, because each time a minister officiates a marriage, they do so as agents of the state.  If the state says that same-sex marriages are OK, then failure to do so will be discriminatory.  (Ministers in countries with “two marriages” where they do not officiate on behalf of the state are relieved of that problem).

What churches need to do is to begin organising themselves to recognise Christian matrimony independent of the state.  Some churches and religious organisations, such as the RCC, are well positioned to do this.   How Evangelicals carry this out with their desultory organisation is hard to know, but given the stakes they’d better find out in a hurry.

Getting back to the subject of the CNBC article, much of what drives people’s decision on entering in to civil marriage depends upon their legal, estate and tax status and not on their doing it before God.  Doing the separation proposed above would end this kind of game.  One figure on the religious left has slammed the door on this: Episcopal Bishop of Southeast Florida Leo Frade is happy to officiate same-sex blessings, but refuses to do so for opposite sex couples, who face many of the issues described in the CNBC piece.

Hopefully this will put some of my friends at ease on this subject.  Others will find this objectionable, but after years of experience dealing with the legal system in this country, I refuse to revert to a more naïve view of same, a view that drives much of the insanity of our political discussion.

The Downhill Run of Roman Catholicism

As documented by Thomas Aquinas about the frequent reception of the Eucharist, in Summa Theologiae, 3, q. 80, a. 10 (I have added the papal dates):

In the primitive Church, when the devotion of the Christian faith was more flourishing, it was enacted that the faithful should communicate daily: hence Pope Anaclete (76-88) says (Ep. i): “When the consecration is finished, let all communicate who do not wish to cut themselves off from the Church; for so the apostles have ordained, and the holy Roman Church holds.” Later on, when the fervor of faith relaxed, Pope Fabian (236-50) (Third Council of Tours, Canon 1) gave permission “that all should communicate, if not more frequently, at least three times in the year, namely, at Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas.” Pope Soter (166-175) likewise (Second Council of Chalon, Canon xlvii) declares that Communion should be received “on Holy Thursday,” as is set forth in the Decretals (De Consecratione, dist. 2). Later on, when “iniquity abounded and charity grew cold” (Matthew 24:12), Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) commanded that the faithful should communicate “at least once a year,” namely, “at Easter.” However, in De Eccles. Dogmat. xxiii, the faithful are counseled “to communicate on all Sundays.”

I’ve said earlier that, contrary to most of my evangelical counterparts, I don’t think that the current organisational state of Christianity is God’s “Plan A” but that the original churches, having made their downhill run, left it open for the “Plan B” that is so common today.

And I don’t think that the Reformation, the first subsequent major reaction to this state of affairs, is the end all either.  The combination of state support and a decidedly fatalistic theology swapped one form of cultural Christianity for another.

One More Time: My Thoughts on Greg Griffith’s Conversion to Catholicism

It seems that pieces on “Tiber swimming” have become my stock in trade.  Recently I did one on the conversion of Swedish Charismatic pastor Ulf Ekman to the Roman Catholic Church.  I must admit, however, that I was blindsided by the piece simply entitled “Waypoints” by the proprietor of the Anglican blogosphere’s premier conservative site, Stand Firm in Faith.  Greg Griffith’s piece started with a very simple but surprising revelation:

After more than ten years on the front lines of the Anglican wars, I have made a major change. This past Easter vigil, my family and I were confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church.

Although it’s tempting to try to draw parallels with the last high-profile conversion reviewed,  the two really don’t compare.  The two situations are entirely different, a difference enhanced by the fact that Griffith is a layman.

Rather than rehash his well-written piece, I think some takeaways are in order.  Let’s start with this one:

So for me, a move to Rome is not about a revolution in my theology, and certainly not about a rejection of Anglicanism. It is about a very painful choice between two dilemmas:

On the one hand there is Anglicanism, an expression of faith that in the abstract – its doctrines and theology – is as nearly perfect as I believe man has ever succeeded in achieving, but which in practice has unraveled into a chaotic mess…On the other hand there is Roman Catholicism, some of whose doctrines give me serious pause, but which in practice has shown itself to be steadfast in its opposition to the caprices of the world.

I think that puts into a nutshell the practical core of the dilemma between being Anglican and Roman Catholic.  My most popular piece is this comparison (which I hope Greg read somewhere along the way).  My point and his is that the choice between the two isn’t as clear-cut as one would like, especially when viewed from the pew.

…the promise of the orthodox Anglican movement outside of The Episcopal Church never materialized either. Populated as that movement is by many good people, it has the institutional feeling of something held together by duct tape and baling wire. It is beset by infighting and consecration fever, and in several of its highest leadership positions are people of atrocious judgement and character.

My guess is that some of the bad actors he’s thinking about are the likes of Chuck Murphy, John Hepworth and of course Tory Baucum.  But there are some more general problems in North American Anglicanism that would challenge any leader.  I’ve mentioned these before but they bear repeating.

The first is that the seceding people, with or without their parishes or dioceses, brought two very divisive and unresolved issues with them: women’s ordination and the Anglo-Catholic/Reformed divide.  The latter is fairly recent; the former goes back to the nineteenth century. Setting aside personality problems (and, of course, coming up with golden parachutes for the redundant bishops), these have perpetuated many divisions and added to the confusion.

The second is the obsession with union with Canterbury.   Had this not been on so many people’s agenda, it would have simplified the setup of orthodox North American Anglicanism considerably.  That misplaced focus lead to the multiple provincial jurisdictions which tried to achieve that on an indirect basis.  It was great in its own way but hindered things when it was time to unify.  That said, I still believe that the last hope for Anglican Christianity to be anything else than a footnote are the Africans.  But even here a unified North American entity, unconcerned with communion with Canterbury and reaching out to the orthodox provinces, would have made things simpler on both sides of the Atlantic.

And that doesn’t take into consideration the problems with either Rowan Williams or Justin Welby

There’s one more thing that I’d like to comment on, and it’s this:

We began attending services in March of last year. At first just once a month, then with increasing frequency. One morning I noticed that my daughter had recited the confession and the Creed purely from memory, while I still had to read the text to keep from reciting the Anglican versions. A month or so later, we were literally having to drag her – I mean, knock on the door and walk in and take her by the arm – from Sunday School to get to Mass on time. It was impossible not to see that she was very, very happy, a perception punctuated by the knowledge that all she has known her entire life is that her parents have been in a very public and very pitched war with her church.

Choosing a church isn’t the straightforward proposition that enthusiasts make it out to be.  One has to deal with many things: local situations, parish variations, different ministers or priests, family requirements (especially with children), the perennial class stratification of American Christianity, and what not.  Having done enough of it in my lifetime, I’m sympathetic to what Greg has gone through.  The key, as always, is keeping what’s really important in front of you; God will take care of the rest.

And as for Stand Firm?  That, to borrow a phrase from the Occupant, is beyond my pay grade.  There are non-Anglicans on the bloggers list already; throwing one greenhorn Roman Catholic into the mix won’t hurt.  But I think that the centre of the drama of the Anglican Revolt is pretty much past, and Greg’s conversion is a sign of that about as much as anything.  Stand Firm will continue to enlighten and sometimes entertain, but now we all should focus on the mission that God put us here to do.  I think it sad that we have had to spend so much time and energy on trying to fix churches that won’t be fixed.

We, like Our Lord, must be about our Father’s business.  May God bless Greg and his family in the days ahead.

The Reasons Christ is Really Present in the Eucharist

It’s always amazing that the “fundamental” Protestants pass over this, but they do.  From Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 3 q.75 a.1:

The presence of Christ’s true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority. Hence, on Luke 22:19: “This is My body which shall be delivered up for you,” Cyril says: “Doubt not whether this be true; but take rather the Saviour’swords with faith; for since He is the Truth, He lieth not.”

Now this is suitable, first for the perfection of the New Law. For, the sacrifices of the Old Law contained only in figure that true sacrifice of Christ’s Passion, according to Hebrews 10:1: “For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things.” And therefore it was necessary that the sacrifice of the New Law instituted by Christ should have something more, namely, that it should contain Christ Himself crucified, not merely in signification or figure, but also in verytruth. And therefore this sacrament which contains Christ Himself, as Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. iii), is perfective of all the other sacraments, in which Christ’s virtue is participated.

Secondly, this belongs to Christ’s love, out of which for our salvation He assumed a true body of our nature. And because it is the special feature of friendship to live together with friends, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix), He promises us His bodily presence as a reward, saying (Matthew 24:28): “Where the body is, there shall the eagles be gathered together.” Yet meanwhile in our pilgrimage He does not deprive us of His bodily presence; but unites us with Himself in this sacrament through the truth of His body and blood. Hence (John 6:57) he says: “He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him.” Hence this sacrament is the sign of supreme charity, and the uplifter of our hope, from such familiar union of Christ with us.

Thirdly, it belongs to the perfection of faith, which concerns His humanity just as it does His Godhead, according to John 14:1: “You believe in Godbelieve also in Me.” And since faith is of things unseen, as Christ shows us His Godhead invisibly, so also in this sacrament He shows us His flesh in an invisible manner.

Although Aquinas starts with it as a matter of faith, he doesn’t let the matter rest there, proceeding with reasons why a proposition is so.  In  addition to a truly Biblical eucharistic theology, his method separates him from many others in that he always wants to answer the question “why,” a question that’s getting harder and harder to even ask these days.