Category Archives: Roman Catholicism

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

Sandi Yonikus: Building the Earth

Liturgical Press  11468 (1968)

This “pre-NOM” album (which means we’ve had one and a half liturgical upheavals since then) is, despite its pretentious title, a mixture of a children’s’ album and early Catholic folk.  Or maybe the pretentious title is reasonable: children are the future, something that the dropping birth rate of the time tended to lose sight of.  In any case, it’s a reasonable effort in both respects.  It’s also a composite effort: in addition to the children from the parish school, it includes seminarians from St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston and some help from the Catholic Student Centre at the University of Texas.  (That’s hard to take for an Aggie, but…we knew how to deal with Catholic students from Austin.)

In addition to this effort, Sandi Yonikus (1936-1988) was also a writer of children’s books.

The songs:

  1. Building The Earth
  2. Our God Is Good
  3. Spirit Of God
  4. Gio (The Little Yellow Bird)
  5. We Come As Your People
  6. I’ll Find Me A Mountain
  7. He’ll Come Again
  8. Knock On Any Door
  9. Sing Alleluia
  10. Teach Me
  11. Christ Takes His Throne
  12. Sing With Joy
  13. Gather ‘Round The Table

Download Building the Earth

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When Public Servants Were Barred from Being Priests

Such was the case in the late Roman Empire, by no less of a personage than Pope Siricius.  Writing to the bishops in North Africa, he gave eight reasons why a person should not be consecrated to the priesthood, saying that “if after the remission of sins (baptism) he (the candidate for the priesthood) takes on the belt of public service it is not right for him to be admitted to clerical orders.” (Letter V, 1) The “belt of public service” was part of the uniform of the Roman bureaucracy, which took on military form in its civilian part as well.  The Council of Toledo made the same prohibition in 401.  Siricius expressed the same disapproval of people passing from civil service to the priesthood in a later letter to several bishops (Letter VI, I, 3.)

Why was this? Siricius and others were well aware of the nature of late Roman politics, which involved patronage and graft, to say nothing of torture and execution.  He could not imagine someone successful in the Roman bureaucracy having the moral character necessary to be a Christian priest or bishop.  For all the trashing of fourth century Christianity by some of those who came after, this is a higher standard than much of what we see these days.  We are better at making our own system look clean, but there is plenty of corruption to go around.

And when the opportunity to unload this bureaucratic weight came around, as Britain did a few years later, the glee was clear, as we can see in the Pelagian Fastidius’ De Vita Christiana:

We see before us plenty of examples of wicked men, the sum of their sins complete, who are at this present moment being judged, and denied this present life no less than the life to come…Those who have freely shed the blood of others are now forced to spill their own…Some lie unburied, food for the beasts and birds of the air…Their judgements killed many husbands, widowed many women, orphaned many children.  They made beggars and laid them bare…for they plundered the children of the men they killed.  Now it is their wives who are widows, their sons who are orphans, begging their daily bread from others.

Today, of course, Christians are made to think that participation in public life is their Christian duty, but there was a time when just the opposite was commended to Christ’s followers.  In both cases good reason is involved; it is not as easy an issue as some think.

Some Thoughts on Bossuet’s History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches

One of the things that some of the major Anglican blogs will throw out from time to time is the question of what their readers/commenters are reading on the side when they’re not keeping up with the latest Anglican debacle (like the recent Primates’ Meeting.)  Through the Christmas holidays, while waiting for some long runs to come out of the computer, I finished Bossuet’s History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, both volumes of same.  That may seem quaint to some, although this piece on the recent Primates’ Meeting strikes me as being taken out of the Variations without Bossuet’s ability to entertain and inspire.  (Most Catholics priests these days lack Bossuet’s ability both ways, but that’s another post…)

The Variations were Bossuet’s efforts to show the serious problems inherent in the Reformed churches.  So how successful was he? Part of how successful he seems depends upon how you accept his view of Roman Catholicism.  A Roman Catholicism which is more like Bossuet envisions it–conscious of Scripture, independent of the state, Augustinian in theology–would be a better entity to adhere to than the one that he had than and we have now.  A big part of the problem is that the reverends pères jesuites, or at least one in particular (Pope Francis,) are once again propagating their morale accommodante, as they did in Bossuet’s France (much to its long-term detriment.)  Unfortunately then and now the situation is more complicated, but Bossuet tends to ignore this.

His invective against Protestantism, however, works, and it does because he picks his battles carefully.  Although it’s easy to get lost in his nit-picking of the endless declarations of faith (they contradicted each other and Catholic doctrine,) the largest thing he goes after is the complete hash that Protestant churches made over the nature of the Eucharist.  It was the first major split in Protestantism, pitting Lutheran consubstantiation (with its multiple definitions) against Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology as advocated by Zwingli, and the variations which followed…Bossuet succeeds in showing that, once you get away from the literal meaning of Christ’s words instituting the Eucharist, you get a mess compared to which the problems of transubstantiation pale.

That’s not the only thing Bossuet occupies his pages with, though.  Except for the Anabaptists and what we would call the “Radical Reformation,” he covers his subject pretty well.  Needless to say, his point of view is biased.  It becomes ferociously so when he gets to the English Reformation, which he depicts as a combination of duplicity and brutal state coercion (he conveniently ignores Queen Mary, but she simply kept up the pace set by her father, only for the other side.)  The one person that comes out of the narrative with her reputation intact is Queen Elizabeth I, whose settlement pulled back from the outlying positions of the Reformers (much to the distaste of the Puritans and other dissenters who spent the next century trying to pull in the other direction.)  For people who are enamoured with the myth-making of the English-speaking peoples, Bossuet’s viewpoint is hard to swallow but necessary.

Another interesting digression of Bossuet’s was his narrative of pre-Reformation groups such as the Albigensians, Waldensians (the “Vaudois” as he calls them) and the Bohemian Brethren.  The Reformers saw them as their forerunners and, indeed, looked to groups such as this as proof that there was always a “true church.” (This last point was revived in the nineteenth century in the “Baptist Succession” idea of J.R. Graves and those who came after him.)  Bossuet shows that the theology of these groups was at serious variance with what the Reformers taught, which led the latter to try to bring the former into line with their own idea.  Especially interesting are the Vaudois, who were in reality an unauthorised, non-celibate religious community in Catholicism more than a stand-alone church; their main fault is that they believed that unworthy priests did not administer valid sacraments.  (Anyone who has been in church work knows that gauging the worthiness of ministers can be a dicey proposition at best; I think the Vaudois were unreasonable in that regard.)

To my mind, the best part of the work was when Bossuet takes on Calvinism.  He hits the nail on the head when he characterises it as follows:

This doctrine of Beza was taken from Calvin, who maintains, in express terms, “that Adam could not avoid falling, yet was nevertheless guilty, because he fell voluntarily;” which he undertakes to prove in his Institution, and reduces the whole of his doctrine to two principles: the first, that the will of God causes in all things, even in our wills, without excepting that of Adam, an inevitable necessity; the second, that this necessity is no excuse for sinners.  Hereby it is plain, he preserves free will in name only, even in the state of innocence and after this there is no room for disputing whether he makes God the author of sin, since besides his frequently drawing this consequence, it is but too evident, by the principles he lays down, that the will of God is the sole cause of that necessity imposed on all that sin.

Bossuet goes on to show two characteristics of Reformed types that persist to this day: they spend half the time in their unbending insistence of their idea, and the rest of it back-pedalling from the fatalistic consequences of that idea.  The first was certainly in evidence in the smack-down that the Arminians experienced at the Synod of Dort, and the second started afterwards.  Much of the later history of Protestantism–especially the Wesleyan movement and its progeny–has been trying to fix this serious doctrinal problem, but given the Reformed strength in both the seminaries and the upper socio-economic strata of Christianity, it will always be an uphill battle.

As I alluded to earlier, Bossuet is an Augustinian; nevertheless, he has no sympathy with those who wanted to take Augustinianism (especially Calvin) in a new direction.  He also lays to rest Chesterton’s charge that Luther, an Augustinian monk himself, took Augustine’s doctrine (which certainly has problems of its own) to its logical conclusion.  Bossuet’s case for his own church would have been stronger had the Jesuits (with the backing of his own sovereign, Louis XIV) had not been undermining it with their casuistry, which Pascal (someone Bossuet was certainly familiar with) attacked with gusto in the Provincial Letters.

No matter where you’re at on the issues Bossuet discusses, the History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches is an interesting take on the Reformation, a process which did not end with Luther, Calvin and Cranmer but only began.

The Places I Couldn’t Teach

The flap over Wheaton’s process to dismiss Larycia Hawkins from her position makes me stop and think about a few things, especially since I am beginning yet another semester of teaching Civil Engineering at UTC.  Lord willing, sometime this year I will complete my PhD pursuit.  It’s been a long process, not without excitement; hopefully I’ll be able to put things in perspective as it comes to an end.

One of the things that I’ve actually accomplished along the way is to accumulate enough graduate hours to teach math at an accredited institution (well, SACS at least.)  By some accounts, it’s not the highest and best use for this PhD but it’s possible.  Most Christian colleges offer math courses, although if one considers some of the things our ministers say it’s easy to conclude that whatever math they had to take didn’t make much impact.

You’d think that math would be a relatively uncontroversial subject, without much of the doctrinal baggage that would cloud a liberal arts professor, to say nothing of those who teach “divinity.”  But that’s not necessarily the case.  Christian colleges, in trying to be consistent, usually require all faculty to adhere to a doctrinal statement, and that include those who count.

Let’s consider, for example, Bryan College, just up the road in Dayton.  It’s a nice place, my wife and I have visited for a number of cultural events, know President Stephen Livesay and his wife, have friends on the faculty.  But I could never teach there because I’m a shameless old earther, and Bryan requires that a faculty member be a six-day young earther.  It is the same at Patrick Henry.  Wheaton’s situation is a little dodgier, but since they consciously exclude Roman Catholics, would I be out of luck since I believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

At this point I need to make a couple of stipulations.

The first is that I promised myself a long time ago that my work would be a “diverse portfolio” to avoid being the client of a single patron.  My years of working for the church only underscore that commitment.

The second is that I don’t think that the American concept of “accommodation” is a New Testament requirement of institutions, Christian or otherwise.  The idea is really recent, i.e., the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This has led, IMHO, to a lot of the “we can have it all” attitude that too many Evangelicals are stuck on, that we can do anything we want and it still be compatible with our faith.

Those things said, I think it is the prerogative of institutions such as Bryan and Wheaton to make the doctrinal requirements that they do and take the actions they deem appropriate to actualise those requirements.  However, they must also rise and fall on the consequences of those requirements, be they good or bad.  Ultimately their opponents should support the institutions that support their view, or start ones that do if they must, instead of expecting institutions to constantly bend to their will.

The last point has been the tricky part for the religious left.  When UTC Provost Jerald Ainsworth introduced Dr. Daniel Pack, the new Dean for UTC’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, he said that what he was looking for was not a maintainer or a fixer but a builder.  The left has been good at taking control of institutions–secular and sacred–but not so hot at either building them up or making new ones to supplant those not to their taste.  As long as that is true, Christian institutions will be the arena for slugfests like the one we’re seeing at Wheaton.

In the meanwhile, it’s time for the rest of us to roll on.

Evangelicals Having “Buyers Remorse” on Being Pro-Life?

Sure looks that way, at least for the organisers of Urbana15:

In an op-ed published on Monday, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life (SFL), revealed the Urbana15 team denied her group’s exhibitor application.

SFL received an email from Urbana’s Exhibits Manager thanking the pro-life youth organization for applying, but denied their application because, “… Students for Life does not align with Urbana’s exhibitor criteria. One of our key criteria for exhibitors is to have advancing God’s global mission as the vision and purpose of their organization.”

It’s easy to forget, but at the time of Roe v. Wade, evangelicals were decidedly unenthusiastic about the pro-life cause.  With Roman Catholics it was another story, although to some extent that was muted in the upheaval following Vatican II.  Evangelicals generally took a blasé attitude towards the subject.  It was more important, to their mind, to work on evangelising those who made it to the age of accountability rather than to fret over those who didn’t, as they had no worries about their eternal destiny.

It took some promotion, but by the 1980’s Evangelicals and the “Religious Right” were in the forefront of the pro-life movement, to the point where there are people out there who think that the Roman Catholic obsession with the subject came from the Evangelicals!

Today, for conservative Roman Catholics, pro-life is the social issue, even taking precedence over same-sex marriage.  And there are Evangelicals for whom it is the same, as is probably the case with most of the Students for Life.  However, in the ever-running popularity contest of Evangelicalism, some have decided that the pro-life cause carries too much baggage, and thus it gets banned from an evangelistic gathering like Urbana15.  It’s like, after forty years or so of making the pro-life movement central, Evangelicalism is showing signs of “buyers remorse” for a cause they didn’t much care for to start with.

Personally I think both getting people into the world and getting them saved after that are important.  But the Body of Christ is supposed to be equipped with diverse gifts and callings, right? So do we all really have to do the same thing? Evidently in this age of enforced groupthink this is too much for some Christian leaders.

If being pro-life is the thing for you, you’re probably better off being Roman Catholic than Evangelical.

The Non-Nestorian Theology of “Mary Did You Know”

Jordan Smith’s stunning performance of “Mary Did You Know” on “The Voice” is a reminder of the fact that this song–written by Baptist comedian Mark Lowry–is American Evangelicalism’s “official” Christmas carol.

What Evangelicals probably don’t know is that, for all of their reputation for sloppy theology, Lowry nailed it on this one:

Did you know
that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?

One of the first heresies the church had to deal with after it picked itself off of the floor after Arianism was Nestorius’ contention that Jesus Christ was very dual in his being, that the human and the divine persons were very separate. Nestorius himself contended that “God is not a baby two or three months old”.

And so, Evangelicals, when your Orthodox friends (assuming you have any) rail at you when you don’t know the Thrice-Holy Hymn, or that you do not cross yourself at all let alone with two or three fingers, or that you do not recite the Creed during your worship of God, you can say that you’re not a Nestorian.

Which shows, I suppose, that Evangelicalism is where the comedians have a better grasp of theology than the pulpiteers.

Those Swell-Headed American Academics

In this midst of his critique of current Roman Catholic academic “theology”, Adam deVille makes the following observation:

As someone trained in the Anglo-Canadian academic system, I note certain curiosities about Americans and academics. Americans turn degrees and “credentials” into an absurd fetish and repository for all kinds of misplaced faith. Holders of these degrees are magically assumed to have all sorts of insights and skills which, in practice, they often do not. And yet they brandish these credentials like buckler and shield to ward off an impudent Douthat, who temerariously dared to question their arguments. Their de haut en bas treatment of him reveals nothing more than their own insecurity.

That “absurd fetish” extends beyond theology; it permeates our entire élite view of society, buttressing their wish to turn this country into a mandarinate where they are the mandarins.

And, closer to topic, I hate to say it, but “Protestant theology” is, if anything, in worse shape than its Catholic and Orthodox counterpart.

T.R. Glover on Tertullian

From the end of his Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire:

By his expression of Christian ideas in the natural language of Roman thought, by his insistence on the reality of the historic Jesus and on the inevitable consequences of human conduct, by his reference of all matters of life and controversy to the will of God manifested in Nature, in inspiration and in experience, Tertullian laid Western Christendom under a great debt, never very generously acknowledged. For us it may be as profitable to go behind the writings till we find the man, and to think of the manhood, with every power and every endowment, sensibility, imagination, energy, flung with passionate enthusiasm on the side of purity and righteousness, of God and Truth; to think of the silent self-sacrifice freely and generously made for a despised cause, of a life-long readiness for martyrdom, of a spirit, unable to compromise, unable in its love of Christ to see His work undone by cowardice, indulgence and unfaith, and of a nature in all its fulness surrendered. That the Gospel could capture such a man as Tertullian, and, with all his faults of mind and temper, make of him what it did, was a measure of its power to transform the old world and a prophecy of its power to hold the modern world, too, and to make more of it as the ideas of Jesus find fuller realization and verification in every generation of Christian character and experience.

I’ve caught it from my “lefty” opponents for using Tertullian, but I make no apologies.

Should a Woman Lead the Church?

That’s a question that’s as old as Anglicanism itself, as Bossuet pointed out a long time ago in his History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, VII, 45-47:

Accordingly, it thence came to pass, that Henry VIII gave
the bishops power to visit their diocese with this preface: “That all jurisdiction, as well ecclesiastical as secular, proceeded from the regal power, as from the first foundation of all magistracy in all kingdoms ; that those who, till then, had exercised this power precariously, were to acknowledge it as coming from the liberality of the prince, ami give it up to him when he should think fit; and upon these grounds he gives power to such a bishop, as to the King’s vicar, to visit his diocese by the regal authority; and to promote whom he shall judge proper to holy orders, and even priesthood; and, in short, to exercise all the episcopal functions, with power to subdelegate if he thought it necessary.

Cranmer acts conformably to this dogma,—the only one
wherein the Reformation has not varied. Let us say nothing against a doctrine which destroys itself by its own enormity, and only take notice of that horrid proposition which makes the power of bishops so to flow from that of the King, that it is even revocable at his will. Cranmer was so persuaded of this royal power, that he was not ashamed, himself archbishop of Canterbury, and primate of the whole Church of England, to take out a new commission of the same from under Edward VI, though but a child, when he reformed the Church according to his own model: and of all the articles published by Henry, this was the only one he retained.

This power was carried to such a pitch in the English Reformation, that Elizabeth had some scruples about it ; and the horror men had of seeing a woman the Church’s supreme head, and the fountain of all pastoral power, whereof, by her sex, she was incapable, opened their eyes at length to see, in some measure, the excesses to which they had been carried. But we shall see, without diminishing the force, or removing the grounds of it, they did no more than just palliate the matter ; nor can Mr. Burnet, at this day, but lament to see excommunication, belonging only to the spiritual cognisance, and which ought to have been reserved for the bishop with the assistance of the clergy, by a fatal neglect given over to secular tribunals; that is, not only to Kings, but likewise to their officers;—”an error (proceeds this author) grown since into so formed a strength, that it is easier to see what is amiss, than to know how to rectify it.”

There are really two questions here, and I’ve discussed both of them in the past on this blog.  The first–and the one which Bossuet emphasises the most–is whether the secular monarch can be the head of the church, with all the powers that go with it.  Any reasonable reading of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer will show that the Church of England exists because the sovereign allows it to under his (or her) “broad seal” and that the sovereign is the “Lord and Governor” (or “Lady and Governor”) of the Church.  And, as Bossuet goes on to point out (48):

And, certainly, I do not conceive any thing can be imagined more contradictory, than to deny their Kings, on one side, the administration of the word and sacraments ; and grant them, on the other, excommunication, which, in reality, is nothing else but God’s word armed with the censure which comes from Heaven, and one of the most essential parts of the administration of the sacraments ; since, undoubtedly, the right of depriving the faithful of them can appertain to none else but those who are appointed by God to give them to the people. But the Church of England went much further, inasmuch as she has attributed to her King’s and to the secular authority, the right of making rituals and liturgies, and even of giving final judgment without further appeal, in points of faith ; that is, of that which is most essential in the administration of the sacraments ; and the most inseparably annexed to the preaching of God’s word. And as well under Henry VIII. as in the succeeding reigns, we find no ritual, no confession of faith, no liturgy, which derives not their ultimate sanction and force from the authority of the King and parliament, as the sequel will make plain. They went even to that excess, that, whereas the orthodox emperors, if formerly they made any Constitutions concerning faith, either they made them in order to put in execution Church decrees, or at least waited for the confirmation of their ordinances. In England they taught, on the contrary, “that the decrees of councils, in points of faith, were not laws, nor of any force, till they were ratified by princes;” and this was the fine idea which Cranmer gave of Church decisions in a discourse of his reported by Mr. Burnet.

This may seem a controversy of another era; however, as I have pointed out, if so motivated Parliament (now holding the sovereign’s power) could impose such things as women bishops (the idea was seriously floated during the debate) and same-sex civil marriage upon the Church of England.  That’s certainly relevant in the recent call by the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is NOT the head of the Church of England) for the Anglican Communion to come to a modus vivendi in January.  How orthodox Anglicans can expect the Church of England to stay a stable anchor for the Communion with this hanging over their head (to say nothing of the internal silliness that’s always out there) is beyond me.

Turning to women’s headship, Bossuet’s point that it took Elizabeth’s accession as the “Lady and Governor” of the church to wake up people to the reality of the monarch’s place is as amusing as it is probably true.  But it was all foreseeable: once you placed the monarch at the head of the church and allowed same to be a woman (the French did not do either) then what happened with Elizabeth was inevitable.  And it seriously weakens any argument against women being either ministers or bishops in an Anglican church.

The English Reformation is without a doubt the messiest chapter in that part of European history, and these issues are at the heart of that messiness.

An Aggie Throwback: Answer Coffeehouse Rehearsal, Forty Years Out

Another milestone on the blog: the fortieth anniversary of the recording of the Answer Coffeehouse Rehearsal in College Station, Texas.  It’s primitive in many ways but for those of us who were involved in it it’s the only recording out there.  There aren’t many Christian coffee-house recordings from the day around in general; this is one of them.

The post gives the explanation of the recordings.  It still features what is, IMHO, the best musical rendition of Isaiah 40:31 out there.

As we start yet another season in the SEC, the fruit of that ministry and others remains the best part of being an Aggie.