Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Fallacy of Solo Christo

So my Catholic friend wisely admonished me to avoid using such phrases as "smack down" in my posts. (Apparently that phrase didn't make the Vatican's list for top 100 most ecumenical slogans for 2006) And no I'm not a wrestling fan I just like that phrase. So here goes:

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who is an elder at an Orthodox Presbyterian Church gave me a CD, the first installment of 5 recorded sermons from his pastor on "the great solos of the Protestant refromation" because he knew I had converted to the Catholic Church and was apparently trying to (or at least hoping to) bring me back. It was on sola scriptura. The next was on the doctrine of solo Christo or - Christ alone.

This second CD was a little more difficult to pick apart. (While I do maintain that I did my best to listen objectively.) Since I came from a reformed background, this sermon was full to the brim of statements that were so familiar and integrated in my thought process that it was hard at times to see what was wrong with it. To be sure, "Christ alone" sounds true enough doesnt it? But the more I thought about the whole doctrine, the more I realized that the doctrine is very close to the Truth yet at the same time so very far away.

Actually, on a semantic level the doctrine is probably completely true. The problem comes with it's implications. This doctrine was used by the reformers to controvert certain Church traditions: namely praying to & the veneration of the saints but most especially the virgin Mary. They also use it to controvert involving a priest as a "mediator" (as they see it) to God.

To be sure, Catholics believe that Christ is the only mediator between God and man as it is stated quite plainly in Scripture. The uniqueness of Christ is that He is God & man of course and fully both. This is true of no one else; not Mary and not any of the saints. But Catholics do not interpret this verse to mean "Jesus is the only human involved in redemption".

Though His blood uniquely cleanses us of sins as we receive it in the Eucharist, the Church has never intepreted this passage to preclude the acknowledgement of any other being(s) used by God in redemptive history (to use some reformed terminology). Furthermore, saying that Christ is the only mediator certainly does not preclude praying to saints. Finally, priests are not mediators between man and God in the same way Christ was.

Veneration of Saints

Whether you look forward from Christ or backward in history you will notice numerous others who were involved in the redemption of man kind. God's chosen people Israel brought salvation to the world for it is written "salvation is from the Jews."(1) And after Christ, the Catholic Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit has spread the gospel to all nations and has perpetuated the Truth of the kingdom of God to this very day for it is also written:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.(2)
So it is clear, God has certainly used institutions in the redemptive process and He has never commanded that we not acknowledge that. But in each direction we also have individuals very decisively involved as well. Starting with Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses & then the judges... next of course come the prophets and finally the forerunner of Christ - St. John the Baptist (the last of the prophets and first of the saints). We also have the blessed virgin Mary as the ultimate example of God using an individual human in the redemptive process. After Christ we of course have all the saints who were martyred as witnesses of Christ and those living who bear witness by the sacrifice of their life. These saints take part in the suffering of Christ, in His divinity and therefore also in redemption.

No Mary does not cleanse our sins. She is not the unique mediator between God and man. This title belongs only to Christ. In fact:
The maternal role of Mary toward people in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power.(3)
And so, a sincere contemplation of Mary's role in redemption will, I think, result in harmony with Catholic dogma on the subject.

Now Mary herself in Scripture and by the power of the Holy Spirit does correctly prophesy saying: "all generations will call me blessed"(4). The Catholic & Orthodox Churches do both respectively call her blessed daily as we recite the (very biblical) Hail Mary.

And typologically, Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. Of course the Ark of the Old Covenant was highly revered throughout Scriptures and by the people of God. If it is not anti-Christ (remember anti means 'taking the place of') or contrary to the semantic meaning of "solo Christo" to revere an object (the work of human hands) as holy, how much less is it so concerning the very mother of God?

Now aside from Mary the mother of Jesus, we do have other examples. One powerful example which struck me recently was that of Mary Magdelene. Not many days before His death, she poured "very expensive perfume made of pure nard" on His head. While those present rebuked her harshly, Jesus said:
"I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."(5)
So if Christ Himself does not consider it anti-Christ to commemorate a saint, how then can we? Elsewhere, Christ Himself indirectly venerates Moses by saying:
For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God) then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother.(6)
In this way, He contrasts what Moses said with what the teachers of the Law were teaching. Sure, His main point is that 'Scripture teaches such and you are contradicting that by your traditions' but (and maybe I'm reading too far into this) but I think the wording here is signficant. Elsewhere, in proving that the Christ is not the son of David (in so far as being subordinate to him) Jesus says:
David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet."(7)
Notice here how He mentions specifically that David is speaking by the Holy Spirit. In the previous example, (while of course Moses was speaking by the Holy Spirit) Christ does not mention it. I believe this is a form (albeit indirect) of veneration for Moses. It signifies that his words hold their own authority. Moses holds this honor not because of his own goodness, but because of the role given to him by God in redemptive history. God did not consider it a distraction from redemption to incorporate Moses or the prophets in His plan and neither does He consider it so for any of those He has chosen.

Praying to the Saints

Now praying to the saints: Since we are not asking saints to be redemptive mediators on our behalf when we pray to them, but rather petitioning them to pray to God for us, it cannot be considered a violation of this principle (semantically) "solo Christo". In this sermon I listend to from the proponent of "solo Christo", he made several false accusations and perpetuated a few misconceptions. He insisted that Catholics view saints as the only means to reach God. That is untrue.

We do "rely" on their "constant intercession" as it is stated in our sacred liturgy but this does not mean that they are mediators between us and God. To be sure they do in fact take part in the mediation of Christ whereas again, He is the sole mediator between God and man. We do not, under any circumstance, ask the saints to redeem us or to mediate on our behalf so that we achieve justification by their intercession. It is God's power, God's redemption and God's grace that we seek when asking the saints to pray for us and it is Christ's mediation alone that bridges this gap between sinful man and a holy & just God (though others, solely by the grace of God, have been given a role in that mediation as part of God's salvific plan of redemption).

Now since Catholic teaching insists that we ask the saints to pray for us (and the preacher did bring up this point in his sermon) it can be justly compared to asking our brothers & sisters in Christ here on earth to pray for us. Since none of us would consider it anti-Christ to do so, how can praying to the saints be considered such?

Accordingly, this issue seems to be viewed by John Calvin and some others as an issue of necromancy rather than one of replacing Christ as a mediator. Now one point on that subject lest anyone start thinking that they still have a valid reason to controvert the practice of praying to the saints, let us consider a few things. First, which of us would judge a grieving widow at the gravesite of her recently deceased husband when, between tears she speaks to him as if he hears her. Is she guilty of necromancy? Is she communing with the dead?

Of course, Christ Himself makes the argument to the Saduccees to prove to them that there is, in fact, a resurrection:
"Have you not heard in the book of Moses and the account of the bush how God said to him, I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken."(8)
It is clear, these are not dead but alive through Christ's own power. In the transfiguration, Moses & Elijah also appeared with Christ. But these were not ghosts, they were living men with new, glorified bodies. Christ was not communing with the dead. John Calvin is right, talking to the dead is wrong. Necromancy is evil. We Catholics pray not to the dead but to the living!

Priests as "mediators"

The blood of a priest does not bestow grace and it does not cleanse from sin. To be short, priests cannot act as sacrificial lambs and perform the supreme act of redemptive mediation between God & man that Christ did. They were, however given special authority by Christ Himself to act in persona Christi or in the person of Christ. They carry out His authority on earth. Christ said:
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . .(9)
And later to the apostles He said:
If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.(10)
Thus, the priests (through apostolic succession) act in persona Christi when they hear confession and give absolution. They are not superceeding the unique mediation of Christ. No, not by a long shot.

And just in case anyone has an objection (and does not believe that priests have that power) answer me this: by whose power are demons driven out? Can any man on his own drive them out? Do evil spirits obey the voice of a man? Of course, it is by Christ's power that they are driven out. But we know Christ "appointed 12 designating them apostles that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority over evil spirits" yet as the apostles participated in this Christ-given authority, they were in no way receiving glory due only to Christ. If anything, they only showed His power and pointed to Him.

Praise God that He has graciously chosen to incorporate us sinners into His perfect plan of salvation. Yes we venerate saints and yes we honor Mary. But ultimately, all honor and glory belongs to God. How loving of a God He is then, that He has decided in His mercy to share His glory with a fallen creation.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be - world without end. Amen.

(3) Vatican II Constitution on the Church, # 60


Seraphim said...

Most folk don't understand that Mary is our Mother. Jesus gave her to us symbolically when from the Cross he said to John, "Behold your Mother".

And before this year I'd never read Revelation 12, especially here:

"Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus." (Rev 12:17)

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Yea, I think the woman in revelation is a clear prophecy of Mary but I never realized that before recently.

Thanks for the comments.

Catala said...

My question is: Are we commanded not to speak to those who departed to the presence of the Heavenly Father? Are we, according to the Good News, able to speak directly to the Heavenly Father?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Catala, thanks for stopping by. To your first question, we are forbidden to practice necromancy (communing with the dead) but the saints are not dead, they are alive in Christ as proved in the gospels when Jesus communed with Moses & Elijah (far be it from us to accuse Him of necromancy).

Regarding the second question, yes we are able to speak directly to God.