Sunday, May 06, 2007

Curious About the Catholic Church

This is a response to an email from Shawn who is 'courting' the idea of becoming Catholic. Here is an excerpt from the original email:

I must say that I admire and greatly respect the Pope Benedict. If I were to describe my theology it would be Wesleyan, and I can voice with catholcs a contempt for the monstorous doctrine of Calvanism. I discovered this year I don't believe in scriptura alone, and as egalitarian as this doctrine sounds it destroys itself.

However, I am not without reservations. Mariology (not to be confused with Mario-ology), and though I affirm astleast the eucharistic doctrine of Luther (it's really bread, and it's really Christ), I am hesitant to say we are sacrificing Christ every day. Lastly, I have greatly studied missiology; where are the catholics? I would appriciate it if you could reslove these issues perhaps in your blog. Or not. Thanks.

Shawn, I'd say you're about 90% Catholic already but the remaining 10% can be tough (at least it was for me). I'll take a stab at offering some help in these areas but just know that these are not simple doctrines and it takes prayer and study to grasp them (when you come from a background that rejects them). It's like a Muslim coming to Christianity - he has to learn to accept God as a personal - loving Father which is an alien concept to Islam and this is a difficult task. In the same way, we Protestants and former Protestants had (have) some obstacles to overcome that are difficult to accept.

Mariology is usually (not always) first and foremost as the most difficult one. It certainly was for me and took me well over a year after my final decision to convert to really come to grips with this doctrine. First, let me say this about Mariology, it's a difficult doctrine and not the type of thing that you can discuss with a non-Catholic with much success unless they are already on the same page on other issues. It would be like discussing whether Jesus could really have walked on water with an atheist. Its a useless discussion as the atheist will never agree that it's possible because of his / her world view. So with Mariology, unless you first affirm the authority of the Catholic Church, it's impossible (I think) to gain any real ground studying this doctrine. Even though there is (as Catholics would say) implicit support for the doctrines of Mariology in Scripture, there are easy ways around those supporting passages if you don't believe in Church authority. (And I mean real Church authority not Calvin's idea of church authority).

For me, I just couldn't come to grips with Mariology at first. It was extremely offensive to me. I struggled with it a lot in the beginning but I knew from the strength of the Catholic Church's apologetics on other areas that the Church was right. So even though I had not fully come to terms with the issue, I put it on the back burner (so to speak) until later on. I can't tell you exactly what it was that made me finally understand but here are a few points that I think might help:

1. Mariology is inherently and inseparably linked with Christology. The first step to understanding Mariology I believe is to understand the Church's teachings on Christology. Jesus' body is truly the body of God, and therefore Mary can truly be called the mother of God as she was literally God's mother. She is the Theotokos. Mariology (when in its proper context) ultimately only points to Christ.

2. As high of a role as Mary holds in creation, it also helps to remember that the Church affirms with no ambiguity that she is a creature and infinitely less than God. That being said she is no ordinary creature, she is God's masterpiece. Again, when we honor the masterpiece we are ultimately giving the glory to the Master Artist.

3. If there is still concern about Mary's veneration overshadowing Christ, you can easily put those concerns to rest by attending mass on a regular basis for any period of time. You will notice the very obvious truth - Christ is the center of the mass. Mary is mentioned 2 or 3 times in mass (once during the creed once during the Eucharistic prayer and maybe one other time) and is by no means the focus of the mass. Again, even when we do venerate Mary it ultimately points back to Christ.

4. Understanding Mary as the new Eve and as the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant will help a great deal in understanding Mariology. It would be beyond the scope of this post and beyond my level of expertise to go into any detail on these topics but I suggest the links above.

Finally, you may find my post on why Mariology is so Offensive to Protestants of some use.

The Sacrifice of the Mass
As for whether we are sacrificing Christ again every time at the mass, I am a little unqualified to go into too much detail on this topic but as Catholics, we of course affirm the Jesus died once and never again. The salvific act at Calvary is a historical event that happened once in the history of the world. At the mass we represent a non-bloody sacrifice in commemoration of the event (but not merely a commemoration) and Christ is mysteriously made present. We do not believe that we are sacrificing Christ again (that is - He is not dying on the cross again) we are representing the sacrifice (as I understand it). The 'sacrifice' of the mass is 1. a commemoration of Christ's ultimate sacrifice (again with Christ truly present) & 2. an offering of the gifts - bread wine and tithes to God. Here is a link for more on that topic.

I assume by this you mean evangelism? Or maybe I'm mistaken. If so, I also had the impression that Catholics aren't "evangelical". But if you'll take a step back and survey the world on a larger scale, I'll think you'll find just the opposite is true. Catholicism has evangelized the world far more than any other branch of Christianity. Aside from there being the Catholic Chuch readily available on every corner of the globe, it is also the largest branch of Christianity (by far). It is also one of the only growing branches of Christianity (in ratio to other branches - and I call it a branch only for lack of a better word since Catholicism is the only non-branch sect of Christianity. It is the trunk!)

Now some of the perceived lack of evangelism is a true reflection of a real problem in the Church that (like many others) became inflamed after Vatican II. The spirit of ecumenism has sometimes lead to spiritual complacency and even relativism. That is not at all the spirit of ecumenism which the Church intends. So there is work to do in this department (and others) but overall I think you will find the Church is extremely evangelical historically. If I misunderstood, please let me know.

Hope this is of some marginal help. Let me know if there's anything else I can help with and if anyone else has something to add to what I said feel free to chime in.


japhy said...

The language I've learned from Vatican documents is that the Eucharist is a re-presentation (not a representation) of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

I'll have to look at the various documents I've read lately, but I think it's also more appropriate to say we're offering the sacrifice of Jesus, we're not sacrificing him.

Gretchen said...

Thanks for this post. Lots to ponder.

entropy said...

bearing blog just posted about something Fr. Corapi said about the sacrifice of the mass that really hit home for her. It may help.

Michael said...

Ah, hem...the young buck who is the mastermind of the "God Fearing Forum" will lead the inquirer into Catholicism down some thorney paths if one does not seek to clarify terminology. The term "Theotokos" is one employed by Eastern Orthodox Christians when attempting to define the role of Mary in the Incarnation of the Logos. Theotokos is a greek word that means: "God-bearer." The term does not mean that Mary is the "Mother of God" from eternity. As a matter of fact, "Mother of God" is a less precise definition of the word. The term Theotokos simply means that Mary is the mother of the Incarnated Logos...or Jesus...and certainly not the "Mother of God the Father." While Catholics are not unfamiliar with the term, it is used more by Eastern Orthodox, while Catholics prefer the erroneous, "Mother of God" appellation to Mary. It's kind of like the filioque clause that Catholics use in reciting the Nicene Creed. It creates division within the ranks of the Church, and is closer to heresy than to orthodoxy. Mike

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Ah hem the liberal who was offended at my 'ad hominem' term 'liberal weenie' (when in reality I didn't mention any specific person) has cut right to the chase and insulted me directly...

I didn't say Theotokos meant mother of God if you'll re-read the post I think you'll find that clear. Catholics also use the term Theotokos.

And the doctrine you're describing is precisely the Nestorian heresy which was condemned at Ephesus long before the Easter Schism. I'm not too knowledgeable about Eastern Orthodox doctrine, but calling Mary the 'Mother of God' is not calling her mother of God the Father or mother of God in any metaphysical sense but if we are to say Christ is God and Mary is the mother of Christ that also makes her mother of God.

We say Mary was mother and not just a shell. I said that she was the mother of God and that she was theotokos. These terms are not contradictory.

Now to address all your concerns in one (from Theodoret who eventually sided with Nestorius):

"I believe that there is one God the Father and one Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father: so also that there is one Lord Jesus Christ, only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, brightness of His glory and express image of the Father's person, on account of man's salvation, incarnate and made man and born of Mary the Virgin in the flesh. For so are we taught by the wise Paul "Whose are the Fathers and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen," and again "Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness." On this account we also call the holy Virgin "Theotokos," and deem those who object to this appellation to be alienated from true religion.

In the same manner we call those men corrupt and exclude them from the assembly of the Christians, who divide our one Lord Jesus Christ into two persons or two sons or two Lords, for we have heard the very divine Paul saying "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" and again "One Lord Jesus Christ by Whom are all things" and again "Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and for ever" and in another place—"He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens." And countless other passages of this kind may be found in the Apostle's writings, proclaiming the one Lord."

Now on the filioque (not that it has anything to do with the present discussion whatsoever) this is an issue simply of magisterium. It certainly doesn't constitute heresy. There cannot be heresy unless there is ONE source of orthodoxy. The only possible singular source for orthodoxy is the Catholic Church and therefore she cannot possibly be guilty of heresy (she could be wrong if orthodoxy were shown to be wrong but she couldnt be a heretic). That is not to say that other churches (like our Eastern brothers) arent also orthodox. They are.

Thanks for the clarifications. I think we could have done without the insults but I'm sure that was a rash decision. Peace.