Saturday, January 20, 2007

St. Paul - Pillar of the Catholic Church - V

Only two more posts on St. Paul I promise.

Colossians 1:22-23
But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
If you know Catholic doctrine, and you read Paul, it's impossible to miss his Catholicity. Once again, how are we reconciled? By the physical body of Christ through death - to present us holy in His sight and without blemish. It is we ourselves that will be presented before God either worthy or unworthy. Not because of our own goodness which merited God's grace but because of Christ's sacrifice.

That doesnt mean however, that we remain worthless sinners devoid of any goodness. Indeed, the grace bestowed on us by God truly transforms us in order that (again) we ourselves are presented without blemish (not that our blemishes are covered up and hidden). This is another example of the beauty of Catholic teaching. I found (for me) that the whole concept of sanctification makes much more sense admitting the doctrine of purgatory (but now is not the time to discuss that).

Back to the passage at hand, also notice how there is a condition in the clause. He says this will happen "if you continue on in your faith". This tells us that we can indeed lose our salvation as the Catholic Church (and some Protestant churches) teach. How can you put a 'condition' on an "unconditional election"? Yet the Bible is more or less one giant statement of condition. Scripture from the beginning is not shy about stipulating exactly what will happen under various conditions.

In the Law & Prophets, God spoke to His people using very conditional language. 'If you obey me, I will bring you prosperity and happiness, but if you disobey me, I'll leave you in ruins'. This language did not stop in the New Testament. "lest you repent ye shall all likewise perish", "you are my friends if you do what I command you" and here again Paul says you will be presented holy "if you continue in your faith".
Colossians 1:24
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church
Catholics teach that suffering has eternal merit. For a summary of New Testament verses on the subject see this link. Another beautiful Catholic teaching is of course, the ability to offer up your sufferings.

It also seems a little hard to swallow for Paul say "what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions". How are Christ's afflictions lacking? I believe that its not that His sacrifice was insufficient, but only that: what is lacking is our participation in it. His sacrifice (for me personally) is lacking if I am not 'taking up my cross' as well.
Colossians 2:9
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,
A very good Scriptural reason to deny the heresy of Nestorianism and thereby affirm the Catholic title that Mary was indeed the "mother of God". I think that understanding this issue is critical to understanding any debate on the issue of Mariology.

This passage also makes easy work of explaining the mystery of the Eucharist. (Not that it ceases to be a mystery). I have been asked before, "how can you believe that the bread & wine have actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ when you can look at them and see that they're not?" My answer is that one might have asked the same question about Christ and His divinity in the first century. We could have plainly looked at Him and seen that He was not God since God is not a man and Jesus obviously was Man. We would have been wrong. He is God. If we were to shake the hand of Christ, we literally just shook God's hand. It is not the "shell" that God chose to inhabit while on Earth. That is a heresy (see above).

In the same way, Mary literally was the mother of God. No, not the mother of His flesh alone (because to separate His humanity from His divinity is the heresy of Nestorianism). Furthermore the Eucharist is Christ. All of this is a mystery and cannot be grasped. But so is Christ's divinity itself and so is the Trinity. The beauty of Catholicism is that it allows us to accept mysteries without apology. G. K. Chesterton, in his book "Orthodoxy", refers to a mathematician (or scientist of some sort) who tries to build a bridge across an endless see (by logic) and contrasts him with an artist who builds a boat and sails about freely on it.
Colossians 2:14
having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
Typically, this verse seems to be read almost as if it were saying that we no longer have any rules to be followed and that all our sins have been 'nailed to a cross' therefore we needn't worry about them. Again, in light of the words of Christ "if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out" this simplistic interpretation of Paul's message here simply will not do.

I think its safe to say that most theologians would read this passage to say that the condemnation which was directed by the Law has been 'crucified' (speaking figuratively) along with Christ. In other words, 'there is now no condemnation for anyone who is in Christ Jesus"(1).

I was told by a fellow Protestant several years ago "don't let the devil hound you about that sin... when he starts accusing you just remind him that it was nailed to a cross 2,000 years ago". The advice sounds innocent enough, but that wasn't the devil; that was my conscience! There is, of course, forgiveness of sins; it's one of the final points of the Apostle's Creed.

Up next: Paul's letters to Timothy and that oughta do it for my brief study on Paul's Catholicity.

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