Thursday, October 25, 2007

Athenagoras: Marriage is for Procreation

I was listening to another lecture by Peter Kreeft yesterday in which he said he, as a Calvinist, took a course on Church history. The professor warned the class that they all needed to be able to give a defense when Catholics claimed that the early Church was Catholic and that Protestants broke off. He said the Catholic Church had gone astray and the Reformers restored the Church to her primitive roots ... you know the story... So Dr. Kreeft (not Dr. at the time of course) asked "so you mean to tell me that if I, as a Calvinist, used a time machine and went back to worship with the early Church I'd feel more at home than a Catholic would?" The professor said "yes". Dr. Kreeft thought, "Great. All I have to do is read the early Church fathers and see what they had to say". Of course he did read the fathers and now he's a Catholic. It's hard to see how some people can be so willingly self deceived.

At any rate, I say all this to lead up to the point of my post. Around 175 AD, Athenagoras gives us further evidence (though relatively insignificant in comparison to other more important issues) that the early Church was Catholic (in the modern sense of the word). Listen to this quote on marriage:

Therefore, having the hope of eternal life, we despise the things of this life, even to the pleasures of the soul, each of us reckoning her his wife whom he has married according to the laws laid down by us, and that only for the purpose of having children. For as the husbandman throwing the seed into the ground awaits the harvest, not sowing more upon it, so to us the procreation of children is the measure of our indulgence in appetite. Nay, you would find many among us, both men and women, growing old unmarried, in hope of living in closer communion with God.
First, marriage is principally for procreation - not personal fulfillment. If you're not married to a member of the opposite sex, then you should be married to the Church as a priest, monk or nun. Furthermore he praises celibacy as Christ & Paul did and as the early Church obviously did.

Celibacy not only has a place but the highest place in the Catholic Church. To be married is good but to be celibate is better (see St. Paul on the subject). I would get excommunicated from the Presbyterian ecclesial community for saying such a thing (I'm exaggerating). But anyone who would deny that the Catholic Church values celibacy more than the Protestant communities is a liar. Furthermore, it is impossible to honestly say that the Catholic Church does not more closely resemble the early Church (at least in so far as Athenagoras paints her here) on this issue (yet one more in the litany). Other irrefutable issues where the Catholic Church is unequivocally closer to the early Church include the Eucharist, the doctrines of Baptism, the communion of saints - praying for the dead etc, the liturgical order (see Justin Martyr 1st apology) apostolic succession, justification (see Justin Matryr and others - also see Ignatius of Antioch calling the Eucharist the 'medicine of immortality') and the list goes on.


bill bannon said...

The marriage of some people is principally about procreation. The marriage of sterile people which the Church allows is not about children principally nor is the marriage of elderly people nor is the marriage of the couple who have two children who are then killed in a car accident and then the couple have no more children by nature even though they try. Try to eschew simplistic approaches in the name of greater orthodoxy. Augustine and Jerome and Chrysostom actually thought that having many children was not a Christian thing but a Jewish thing. If you need the quotes, I'll get is one:

Augustine Of the Good of Marriage

9.…Whence we gather, that, in the first times of the human race, chiefly for the propagation of the People of God, through whom the Prince and Saviour of all people should both be prophesied of, and be born, it was the duty of the Saints to use this good of marriage, not as to be sought for its own sake, but necessary for the sake of something else: but now, whereas, in order to enter upon holy and pure fellowship, there is on all sides from out all nations an overflowing fullness of spiritual kindred, even they who wish to contract marriage only for the sake of children, are to be admonished, that they use rather the larger good of continence.
He is wrong by the way since the epistle says that couples are not to be separate sexually except for a time to pray and then come together again lest the devil enter in. Strange that the greatest authors could contradict scripture as Augustine did here and JOhn Paul did on the death penalty and wifely obedience and Aquinas did on interest on a loan.

Dave Gudeman said...

Fiddler, as I think I've told you before, when protestants talk about the early church in that manner, they primarily mean the church of the New Testament, not the church of the following century.

You won't find any of the New-Testament leaders deifying Mary or praying to anyone besides God, or setting up a priesthood. However, during that same period you _will_ find plenty of pagans praying to various gods and plenty of pagan priesthoods.

Seriously, which is more plausible, that God left out of the New Testament exactly those features of his Church which were most like the pagan religions of the day (and most like the idolatry which he had so vehemently condemned in the Old Testament), or that the Church strayed from his will to adopt the ceremonies and idolatries of their neighbors as Israel had done so many times before them?

I'm sorry, but logically, this isn't a close call. I understand that you have other reasons for your beliefs and I respect them, but the idea that history supports the Catholic church is just wrong. Sure, the history of the Catholic church supports the Catholic church, but not the history of the church set up by the disciples of Christ.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Im under fire from a Catholic and a Protestant... how do I pick so many fights???

Bill - I do not retract my statement - marriage is principally about procreation thats why we are not given in marriage in heaven because we have no further need for procreation whereas we do still need / long for personal fulfillment - love whatever...

You've tossed out exceptions to prove the rule. The fact that crippled people exist does not prove that legs weren't meant for walking and your example - sterile couples blessed by the Church do not prove that marriage is not about procreation.

I'm not saying at all that marriage is only about procreation - just that its principally for such. He contrasts this with the pagan marriages - primarily about self pleasure.

The catechism reminds us that love is the 'innate vocation of every human being' and marriage - even procreation is principally about love.

"And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation" Catechism 1604.

Now on the contradictions - I'm not following your implied contradiction with Augustine. I don't know JPII's quote on womens subordination to men but I know the Catholic Scriptures still say the same thing they always did. They were read at my wedding as a reminder.

I don't doubt that Augustine, Aquinas and even JPII have contradicted your interpretation of a scripture - especially read within a narrow protestant-like understanding. I wouldn't even find it hard to believe that they had been wrong on certain points but I for some reason find it even easier to believe that you or I might be wrong on even more points than they.

Regarding Aquinas and his interest on a loan - again I'm not familiar with that at all but I suspect we may be dealing with apodictic versus casuistic laws to borrow language from B16s new book (I know I know you hate it - wish it was an ex cathedra collection fixing all the problems of the Church -- hey Im just bustin your chops dont take it too seriously).

I'll respond a second time re: Dave's statement.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Dave - the course was on 'the early Church' the early Church didn't simply stop existing in 90s after the last New Testament book was written - or if it did when is the magic date?

St. Clement of Rome's epistle to the Corinthians demanding their obedience to the authority of the see of Rome was also written in the 90s - perhaps even before the NT was finished though a little unlikely.

I just listened to a lecture on early Church history from a Protestant scholar years 100 - 500 AD. ANd like every other scholarly Protestant on the subject Ive ever read/heard - they completely gloss over the doctrines of the early Church. The only early church figure they even mention was Augustine (surprise). Same thing is going on - Protestants understanding of the early Church (even at a seminary level) often consists of no more than "uh... there were a lot of martyrs and uh... the Roman empire was there--- oh yea lets talk about the roman empire"

Here's the lecture in case you think I'm exaggerating.

"You won't find any of the New-Testament leaders deifying Mary or praying to anyone besides God, or setting up a priesthood"

Great - you won't find Catholics doing any of those things either. (Or if you do they're not in line with Church teaching and more representative of our faith than if I were to find a Protestant communist)

"Seriously, which is more plausible, that God left out of the New Testament exactly those features of his Church which were most like the pagan religions of the day (and most like the idolatry which he had so vehemently condemned in the Old Testament), or that the Church strayed from his will to adopt the ceremonies and idolatries of their neighbors as Israel had done so many times before them?"

Which practices are you talking about specifically?

You said - logically it's not a close call and I have other reasons for my conversion. I have some other reasons - but my primary reasons were historical ones. Dr. Kreeft's were too. Dr. Beckwith's recent conversion was for the same reason. In fact, almost every convert I know converted precisely because the history is so one sided.

But to talk about Church history and only include the NT is a fallacy of epic proportions. There are 5 history books in the NT - the gospels and Acts of the apostles.

In the gospels we see Jesus telling Peter that He will build His Church on him. We also hear Him say "And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd." and later to Peter - "Feed my sheep" in a vision.

We also hear Him giving Peter the keys to the kingdom and the apostles the authority to 'bind and loose' and to grant absolution for sins.

Later in the Acts we see an authoritative Church. We see argues settled not by bickering over scriptures but by asking the Church and the Holy Spirit speaking through Peter to solve the issue infallibly. (Acts 15)

The last of this histories (excluding Johns Gospel) was finished by 65 AD (my date, many scholars would put it in the 70s) Regardless - that leaves your "new testament history of the Church" less than 40 years - not even a full generation. What about the other 1470 years until Martin Luther?

So I've challenged you before - I challenge you again - take up the early Church fathers and read them and see what they say for yourself.

Dave Gudeman said...

Fiddler, I'm sure there were some Godly men among the early Catholic church just as there are today. But that doesn't mean that they didn't have some drastic failures. Here a a few answers for you:

1. Idolatry: The veneration of Mary and prayer to saints is the worship of false gods, Catholic churches are typically filled with idols (crucifixes and statues of Jesus are just as much idols as the other statues), and the saying of the rosary is just a Christianized form of pagan chanting which has no support in scripture. As I said before, I'll bet the beads were also used in pagan religions. If I could prove that they were, would this effect your judgment?

2. When Jesus said there would be one shepherd, he was talking about himself, not Peter. You quote: "and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd." He said "they will heed _my_ voice" and at other times he talked about the sheep knowing the voice of the shepherd. It's a real stretch to say that Peter will be the shepherd.

3. It's hardly reasonable to make an entire doctrine out of a couple of allegorical statements such as "feed my sheep" and (as I recall from memory), "You are Peter. On this rock will I build my church." The first doesn't imply uniqueness at all, and the second could be easily read not to imply uniqueness. I read that passage as Jesus saying to Peter, that he is only a stone now ("Peter" means stone), but when Jesus is done with him he will be bedrock suitable for building the church upon. This doesn't imply that the other 11 weren't also going to be bedrock, it implies that Jesus was going to do a great work with some unsuitable material.

4. There may be only 5 histories, but all of the books are historical documents that can be used to understand how the early church was.

5. It isn't at all difficult for me to believe that the church was led astray in the third generation after Christ (40 years is two generations). In fact, it is already going astray in the first few years, with some believers demanding that everyone continue to follow Mosaic law (a dispute that Peter took the wrong side of at least twice, once being corrected in a vision from God and once from Paul). There are several other failings of individual churches written about in the New Testament as well, so I'm afraid that the earliness doesn't help your position much.

Dave Gudeman said...

Oh, I'll also add that in the passage Paul says that it's better to be celibate, he also gives a reason for getting married, namely that if you can't control your sexual urges you should get married. Doesn't say anything about having children...

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

"Idolatry: The veneration of Mary and prayer to saints is the worship of false gods"

Well Protestants worship the moon. That proves they're wrong. (As long as we're tossing around baseless claims I can do it just as easily)

"Catholic churches are typically filled with idols (crucifixes and statues of Jesus are just as much idols as the other statues)"

I know - idols are only appropriate at Christmas time. After that, Protestants have to put all their idols away and we should too. I understand that God utterly hates three dimensional images. Only paintings of Christ or the crucifixion are acceptable. That's one point I've been meaning to make with the Vatican.

The rosary isn't in scripture but about 85% of the prayer is direct quotes from scripture. If you could prove that pagans used beads in the past that wouldn't change my opinion at all. Pagans also used incense. So do we. So did the OT Jews. Pagans also pray for the dead. So do we. So did the Jews. The list could go on for quite some time.

2. Jesus is the shepherd of the Church - the sheep are His flock. He is the authority of the Church. No beef here. Peter is merely the earthly shepherd - the stand in.

3. Part of this comes from a bit of confusion with the text that Protestants have had (blissfully I think) until more recently. There are 2 words in the Greek for stone - one masculine and one feminine. But they weren't speaking Greek - they were speaking Aramaic which only has one word - Kepha (Peter's nickname) Paul also refers to him as such which proves that His name was the Aramaic version.

4. That can only be used to understand the very earliest Church - namely the first 40 years.

5. 40 years is one Biblical generation. But if you will admit that the Church went astray suddenly after the apostles then I think we have found some common ground. Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and Torah Observant Believers all say the same thing. I commend them for their honest. Protestants tend to be reluctant to admit how different the early Church was from their current community.

And heresies arose in the first century as well as every century thereafter and they will continue. As long as humans are involved - the Church will have imperfections.

And about Paul's command on marriage, I think he's taking for granted that the audience would be well familiar with the Jewish Scriptures and or general Judeo-Christian principles. In other words, this isn't the first time we've heard anything about marriage in Scripture.

Dave Gudeman said...

1a. I was serious in my claim about false gods and idols. I know it may be a sensitive issue, and I don't want to upset you unnecessarily, but I couldn't debate you honestly while hiding my opinion about this.

1b. Some protestants don't think there is anything wrong with creating images of Christ or keeping them in your home, or wearing a crucifix, but I've never been in a protestant church that had any images inside the sanctuary other than a bare cross. It isn't the images themselves but the way that they are used. By involving the images in worship, the Catholic church leads people astray into actually worshiping the images. I know this happens because I've talked to unsophisticated catholics whose beliefs were infested with superstition and polytheistism. It may not be orthodox Catholic teaching, but it is the norm in Latin America.

1c. My complaint about the rosary isn't what is said but that there is no support in scripture for it. Your other examples have support in scripture so they aren't on-point.

3. I don't understand your point about languages. Are you saying that Jesus and Peter were unaware of the meaning of "Peter"? Or that word-play can't cross linguistic boundaries?

4. That's right.

5. It just occurred to me that we may be having a fundamental communication problem. You seem to be assuming that if the early Church did X, then this is evidence that X is in God's will. Protestants completely reject this argument (even in the first 40 years) for the very good reason that we have many examples of the early Church doing X where the New Testament authors specifically condemn the fact that the church is doing X.

It is not the actions of the early church that we need to emulate, but the teachings of the New Testament.

So no, I don't think the Church "suddenly" went astray after the apostles died. As I've already said, it started out troubled. Heck, the post-resurrection church began on Easter Sunday with the first pope (among others) denying the resurrection. Talk about false doctrine! :-)

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Dave, I don't doubt that you seriously think the Catholic Church worships idols - I challenged the validity of your claim not the seriousness of it.

All the hurdles you have about the Church I also had before becoming Catholic except you seem more level headed about it than I was. I had to overcome all of those false impressions before agreeing to become Catholic - and I did so by studying the actual Church not by talking to some random unsophisticated Catholics.

1c. You said my other exampleS plural - I only had two...Did I just get a Protestant to admit that prayers for the dead Scriptural??!! The Rosary isn't in the Bible I agree. I wasn't comfortable praying it for a long time even after being Catholic. Let's skip this one for now.

3. Sorry I thought you were referring to an old Protestant polemic on the issue - the Greek uses two different words - one for Peter and one for "this rock" but in Aramaic there would have been only one word.

5. We're definitely coming to the table from two very different angles but I think I understand where you're coming from (at least in part) on some of the stuff. It's hard for me to understand some of it and I'm sure the same goes for you. If it weren't - I guess we'd all come to the same conclusions about stuff wouldn't we!

"It is not the actions of the early church that we need to emulate, but the teachings of the New Testament."

I totally agree. My overarching point that I was alluding to is that I feel that because of the certain historical truths we know about early Church doctrine, any Church that doesn't hold these is decidedly disconnected with any documented Church.

Let's just pick one and I'll live or die on this hill because its so critical - Transubstantiation. Assuming the issue is ambiguous in the Scriptures (It's not - rather very explicit - "This is My body" Paul's warning not to profane His body etc...) but for the sake of the argument if it were - we still know that immediately ALL Christians EVERYWHERE came to hold this doctrine. The entire Church was unanimous until Wycliffe 1300 years later.

My point is that the idea that God led His Church slide into such blasphemous error immediately and wholly persist in it for over 1300 years (and lets not forget the huge majority still believe it) is absolutely inconceivable to me.

And let's not mince words - this is no small error. In fact, if we're wrong about it, we don't deserve to be called Christians but rather heretics, pagans and to be pitied above all. Thats what I meant.

Anyway my original point was simply that the lecture didnt talk at all about early Church doctrine - listen to it for yourself. You disagree with Transubstantiation? Fine, at least admit that all the early Christians believed it and offer some reason why those silly- primitive martyrs did so.

Dave Gudeman said...

Err. I forgot the prayer-for-the-dead" example; I was thinking of incense. I'll acknowledge that if prayer for the dead is supported in the Old Testament then that is a good argument for the practice since it wasn't specifically spoken against in the New Testament. I'm not familiar with the arguments, though, so I can't say anything more.

As to Transubstantiation, I've never been sure what to make of this doctrine. The bread becomes the body of Christ, but it's still bread, but the body of Christ would have been meat which is not bread. It seems extremely unlikely to me that God would rely on Aristotle, a pagan, to explain how such a contradiction could be resolved but as I understand it, the Catholic church explains the contradiction in terms of Aristotle's philosophy of form and matter.

And when it comes right down to it, what the heck difference does it make? Let's assume that the bread is just bread and that "this is my body" is to be taken in the obvious, non-literal sense, then what compelling reason would God have to purge a trivial confusion about the difference between literal and non-literal speech?

Now, compare this to the doctrine of the Trinity which is equally confusing but actually significant (as it effect many other doctrines and behaviors). On that score, the protestants went along with the catholics.

George Weis said...

Hello Friends,

I am glad to have landed on such a site, as I am always looking for people to discuss matters of Church History and Theology. I am a follower of Christ who continually seeks the truth. I will mark this site as one to visit regularly.

May God bless you and keep you!