Monday, June 30, 2008

Humanae Vitae Pledge for Laity

HLI has an online pledge for laity vowing their support for the unwavering Catholic teachings of the encyclical Humanae Vitae in an age where so many Catholics are in open dissent. (No one should confuse this with a vote of confidence in the doctrine). Sign the pledge here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Communion & Forgiveness of Sins

I have already discussed absolution in the third century. The Montanist heretics (not least of which Tertullian) argued that the Church did not have the authority to absolve mortal sin which was committed after baptism. I have also recently made the point that whether or not one could lose their salvation was never a question in the early Church - the question was: could you gain it back once you had lost it!

Now here is one thing we need to pay attention to. For the early Christians, however they practiced the sacrament of reconciliation, forgiveness of sins was always known to be a proper function of the Church. So much so in fact, that one could not receive forgiveness of sins without the Church. If three theological juggernauts such as Pope Callistus, Hippolytus & Tertullian could battle publicly in the beginning of the 200s over whether or not the Church could forgive serious sins, we cannot pretend that the Catholic Church ever saw forgiveness as a private affair.

Furthermore, it would do us no good to grant with the right hand that forgiveness of sins is a Churchly affair and then take it away with the left by dreaming up a definition of "Catholic Church" as something other than the physical, literal institution which still goes by that name. In other words, the novel doctrine of an "invisible Church" does not work here and does not distinguish forgiveness as an ecclesial matter as opposed to an individual act anyway. How can "forgiveness" be a function of an invisible collective of all "true Christians" irrespective of whether their doctrines were orthodox or heretical? In fact, the apostles and the first leaders of the Church "made their priestly vocation explicit" by entering the temple wearing priestly vestments and praying for mercy on behalf of the people.

So in the mind of the early Church, I think we have strong enough proof here alone that the Church offered forgiveness (if there was any to be found). Even the heretics when arguing that the Church could not forgive serious sins in that same breath admitted that A) she could absolve lesser sins and B) if there was any forgiveness to be had, it would need to be through the Church. (If they believed that the apostolic authority of the Church couldn't forgive grave sins, how much less an individual approaching God on his or her own aside from the Church?) Yet if this were not enough proof, one would only need a cursory reading of the ante-Nicene fathers to lay all doubts aside. And then if we needed to clarify what "Church" was in the minds of the fathers, one needn't entertain any definition short of a Church built squarely on apostolic authority as is made especially clear in Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus and even Tertullian himself in his pre-Montanist days. In fact we would sell ourselves short if we stopped there. As I have mentioned many times, Rome played a key role in identifying what the true Church was for these early fathers. Even Tertullian says of her:

"you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority (of apostles themselves). How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood!"
This is not a discussion of papal jurisdiction or development, just a reminder of identification. If we say the "Church" offers forgiveness, we had better know for sure what "Church" is. (Forgiveness is a rather serious thing).

Now after the widespread persecution under Decius, the controversy of forgiveness moved from adultery etc... towards denying Christ during the persecution which was practical since many had committed this crime and were now seeking readmission to the Church. This would be a good time to bring up an important point on the development of doctrine. Cardinal Newman pointed out in his essay on the topic that doctrines typically develop when they are needed and no sooner. Therefore we shouldn't be surprised to find the Church only now dealing with readmission into communion after denying Christ under persecution. In fact, Newman remarks, it wouldn't make sense for the Church to issue dogmas on readmission during the persecution itself! We can apply this principle to many other doctrinal developments but space does not suffice here.

Origen's student, St. Dionysius of Alexandria, tells us (through Eusebius) of a remarkable event in which an old Christian named Serapion had denied Christ during the persecution. After falling ill, he sought forgiveness from the Church (notice, he didn't merely pray privately, he rightly saw the Church as the only means by which he could make amends) and sent his grandson to call a priest to his death bed. Dionysius continues the account:
And the boy ran to the presbyter. But it was night and he was sick, and therefore unable to come.

But as I had commanded that persons at the point of death, if they requested it, and especially if they had asked for it previously, should receive remission, that they might depart with agood hope, he gave the boy a small portion of the eucharist, telling him to soak it and let the drops fall into the old man's mouth.

The boy returned with it, and as he drew near, before he entered, Serapion again arousing, said, 'You are come, my child, and the presbyter could not come; but do quickly what he directed, and let me depart.' Then the boy soaked it and dropped it into his mouth. And when he had swallowed a little, immediately he gave up theghost.

Is it not evident that he was preserved and his life continued till he was absolved, and, his sin having been blotted out, he could be acknowledged for the many good deeds which he had done?
This fascinating account simultaneously confirms three important facts:

1. The necessity of the visible, institutional Church for forgiveness

2. Real Presence in the early Church was not a mere communal affair - the bread & wine were actually transformed. Otherwise, what sense would it have been for him to bring ordinary bread & wine since if Jesus was truly made present only during the communal act of receiving at the hands of an ordained minister, the common elements would have been of no use in this situation. (This is to mention nothing of the rejection of "Real Presence" altogether.) Instead, we see that the Eucharistic species delivered by the boy was indeed significant and quite obviously for the reasons discussed in number 3:

3. The Eucharist administered by the Church was the key to salvation. Jesus told the Church to administer the sacrament at the last supper. The year before He told His disciples "Unless you eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, you have no life in you" and St. Ignatius of Antioch, by no accident, repeated this in calling the Eucharist "the medicine of immortality". He also reminded his readers that there was only one altar and only one communion and then noted how to find it "where ever Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church".

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Patristic Carnival XIII - Coming Soon to a God Fearin Forum Near You

I'm honored to be hosting the thirteenth Patristic Carnival due in the first week of July. You may be interested to read Carnival XII as well if you haven't already.

The guidelines remain the same as the Modest Proposal entry back in November, 2006 and Phil's additions in August, 2007.

The last day of submission will be June 30th and the postings will be up by the week of July 1st.

Remember you can offer submissions on the carnival site or the dedicated e-mail (

I look forward to this month's carnival!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Feminine Triumph in Early Christianity & The Feminist Failure of Late

Things had been relatively easy for Christians under Philip the Arab but when Decius became the Roman emperor in the middle of the third century, severe persecution ensued. Eusebius relates a string of graphic tortures and hardships endured by the saints living in Alexandria.

And with them there were four women. Ammonarium, a holy virgin, the judge tortured relentlessly and excessively, because she declared from the first that she would utter none of those things which he commanded; and having kept her promise truly, she was dragged away. The others were Mercuria, a very remarkable old woman, and Dionysia, the mother of many children, who did not love her own children above the Lord. As the governor was ashamed of torturing thus ineffectually, and being always defeated by women, they were put to death by the sword, without the trial of tortures. - Eus. Ch. Hist 6.41.18
And again, our enemy is put to shame when the "weaker sex" is the very one to defeat him. Eve was Satan's doorway into corrupting the human race but the new Eve was the doorway from whence would come his defeat. The old Adam sinned and effected Satan's plan but the new Adam effected God's forgiveness. But what is interesting to me here is the feminine victory.

I have mentioned before that it was by no accident that Tolkein had the humble hobbits defeating the colossal evil of Sauron and the princess defeating the witch-king who was said to be immortal. Tolkein isn't just being unrealistic and sentimental, he is enacting a profound truth.

It wasn't enough for God to ride in on the clouds in full glory and strike Satan down with lightning bolts (though he could have). He found greater pleasure in sending a peasant girl to give birth in a little hick-town no one had ever heard of.

Similarly in the case above recorded by Eusebius, it wasn't enough that the governor merely fail to convert the great Christian heroes, theologians and bishops (all men) - he had to be put to shame by the testimony of four peasant women. That is real power. We know it's powerful because it always moves us when we see it: the meek toppling the "strong". He (or rather she) who was weak in the world's eyes was in reality much stronger than the princes of evil who were aided by supernatural strength. We love to see humility defeating pride. Yes, it gives us the "warm fuzzies" but it gives us the "warm fuzzies" for a reason.

Now the sad irony is that feminism has taken the great triumph of the feminine and rejected it. Feminism saw victory not in the meek hobbits of middle earth nor in the four peasant martyrs who weren't bishops, priests or even theologians and least of all did it (not she) see victory in the perfectly humble virgin Mary. Feminism saw victory in the greed & the rage of men in middle Earth (this was the key to independence). Feminism saw victory in the sword that forged the Roman roads rather than the love that baptized the empire. Worst of all, feminism saw victory in rejecting the historic Mary for a prouder, more independent one. And if the woman is to have any victory at all, says feminism, she must do everything that man does (whether good or bad). You will notice, though personifying feminism, I dare not call it "her" for in doing so I would insult the feminine gender. Feminism isn't feminine just as chauvinism isn't masculine. Respectively, these neither belong to nor benefit the genders with which they are commonly associated. They bring as much harm to one as to the other.

Men have as much to learn from the "feminine victory" as women do. This reminds us, in case feminism would come to spread its lies, that the case of Christianity isn't a proud and conquering masculine hero (Jesus) with a quiet, reverent & obedient servant (Mary). Mary was humble and reverent and obedient and so was Christ. The Son of Man Himself came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (in the most humiliating way).

Let us look then to the heroes and heroines of our faith. Let us not remove the masculinity nor the femininity from Christianity and let us not pervert either with chauvinism, feminism, egalitarianism or any other modern error. All errors promise to help those to whom the evil is directed against. Gnosticism promised to enlighten Christians but instead, it rendered their reason useless. Egalitarianism promised to make everyone kings but instead made everyone slaves. Chauvinism promised to keep women in their place as loving helpmates but instead it bread bitterness and rightfully so. Feminism promised to give women a share in man's victory but instead it robbed them of their strongest weapon which has commonly proved them victors in more stunning fashion than their male counterparts.

Sacrifice in the First 40 Years of Christianity

Lets put ourselves into the world of first century Christianity for a moment. When we read the New Testament, sometimes we have little more visual than Paul sitting in a dungeon somewhere and writing a letter to a "home church" in Corinth or to a young preacher named Timothy. If you're like me, thats about as far as your mind takes you sometimes.

There are some important themes and surrounding historical facts that we should be aware of though. Here are a few facts that are often over looked.

1. For the first decade or so of Christianity, Christians were almost entirely Jewish. (Yes we all knew this, but re-read it until it sinks in).
2. Christian went right on celebrating Sabbath like they always did in the Synagogues.
3. They probably still celebrated the Jewish passover and participated in the Temple cult just as they always did.
4. They definitely participated in daily prayers at the Temple.
5. James, the brother of the Lord and first bishop of Jerusalem wore the vestments of the priesthood as described in Exodus when he entered the Temple to pray on behalf of the Christians.

Now this went on for about 40 years. In fact, if modern historical estimates are right, it was exactly 40 years. What happened during this time? At Christ's death, the Temple veil was torn in two according to the gospels. Watch the significance here. This is the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new (and not an invitation to be God's buddy). Jeremiah prophesied the New Covenant and Luke records Jesus instituting it in the Lord's Supper. The New Covenant is the Eucharist. Christ is the new Paschal Lamb. Jesus was born approximately -3 BC which would place His death at 30 AD. The destruction of the Temple was in 70 AD. The Talmud tells us that the Jews would fasten a scarlet thread on the door of the Temple when the high priest would offer sacrifice on the day of atonement. If it turned white, the people rejoiced because their sins had been forgiven. This was a perpetual miracle that happened up until a certain point: you guessed it, 40 years before the destruction of the Temple (30AD). This is recorded in the Talmud.

This is the environment the early Christians were in when they received the book of Hebrews. So Hebrews makes it clear that Christ acted as the true High Priest and the true Sacrifice. When the author wrote about Christ's perfect sacrifice, he wrote to an audience who may well have been struggling with questions like "do we still go to Temple and participate in the offerings there?" or they may have already adopted the Tradition of not participating in the Temple cult and yet were not so sure that they could make a strong theological case as to why. This is how we must understand the book of Hebrews and not that the author intended to remove sacrifice from the Christian worship! The author deals with practical questions for early Christians, for us it is lofty theology. The New Covenant was inherently sacrificial and the early Christians were acutely aware of this; we cannot remove sacrifice from the liturgy nor can we admit that there was ever a time in Church history where it was not present.

This is our data set of the New Testament world. Somehow, we have been misled into thinking of the New Testament Church as a network of autonomous cells of charismatic, Spirit-led Gentiles when the reality was much different. The starting point to understand the true New Testament Church is the authority of the apostles and their itinerant mission but we must also understand their liturgy as they would have; with the Eucharistic sacrifice at the very center. Anything less is merely a post-16th century caricature of the early Church.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

God Fearin's 10 Laws of Proper Internet Communication

Breaking any of these rules quickly identifies you as low class:

1. Smiley faces are only acceptable among friends and when smiling AND when they are meant. They are never acceptable as condescending tags at the end of a point made (and ironically they are usually placed at end of a really dumb point.)

Acceptable: Hope you had a good day. :)

Unacceptable: Well, if you like worshiping idols go right ahead. :)

2. Winks are acceptable on even rarer occasions.

3. In fact, just don't use emoticons.

4. Never precede a statement with "Uhh" or "Uhm" unless it's followed by a humbling admission and even then it's better to say "Uhm" than "Uhh". "Uhh" typically has a stronger sarcastic connotation than "uhm" in my experience.

Acceptable: "Uhhh.. I'm not sure about which version I saw that in but I'm pretty sure it's an accurate quote".

Unacceptable: "Uhhh which version are you reading?"

5. Don't hide an insult inside a compliment.

Unacceptable: Really, I expected more out of you. You're better than that.

6. Do not break one or more of these rules or any other ad hominem infringement or engage in someone without professionalism and charity and then end with "peace in Christ" or "pax vobiscum" or any other such departure. If your message says #@*&! off, it doesn't help that in closing you wish them well. In fact, it makes you double tongued.

7. Even worse than number 6 is the infamously condescending departure "I'll be praying for you". It is the ultimate lie - taking something as holy as prayer to God and using it as a weapon of condescension and insult towards another Christian (or anyone) is shameful and to be blunt: sinful.

8. Do not use respectful titles such as Mr., Miss, Mrs., Sir or Mam unless you mean them out of respect. Given our shamefully informal culture, here's a hint: they are rarely used out of respect. "Sir" is almost never used properly on the internet.

Acceptable: Mr. Smith claims that I believe X when in reality I said Y.

Unacceptable: I am doing X while you sir, are doing Y.

9. Do not use "LOL" or any equivalent in an internet conversation unless you are responding to something which the author intended you to laugh at.

Unacceptable: LOL. That's a completely whitewashed version of history.

10. Never, I repeat NEVER, under any circumstance use *chuckle* in any way among friends or enemies, men or women, humanoids or robots on the internet.

Unacceptable: Mr. Smith asserts that the early Church believed in the Eucharist. *chuckle*

We've all run across them in comboxes, forums and elsewhere. The dreaded "internet weenies". I don't know what these people are like in real life. I hate to guess. I'm not sure what motivates them but I suspect hate. The Protestants I meet who fit this category are driven, I think, by their hate for the Catholic Church. The liberal secularists or liberal Catholics (what's the freakin difference I know) are driven by their hate for ... well the Catholic Church.. Hmmm.. I'm starting to notice a pattern.

Former Brethren in Christ Pastor Now Catholic

I ran into the blog of this former Protestant (fundamentalist if I can say so) pastor called Heart for God. Do give it a look. H/T Opinionated Catholic.

One of the things that drew me to Catholicism was the Church’s identity as “catholic” — universal. There is so much in Christianity-at-large that claims to be “true,” but it is not universal. There are polarities of exclusiveness and near absence of boundaries. Dogma is disputed as well as issues of personal morals and social ethics. Where is one to find “the truth” in all of this?

More on Latin as a Veil

As a followup to my earlier post on Latin as a liturgical veil, I'd like to recommend Jeff Pinyan's excellent discussion: What is Sacred Language and Why Have It?

In it, he argues convincingly that vulgar language does not aid our participation, it hinders it! Likewise, liturgical language aids not hinders proper worship.

Monday, June 16, 2008

On Evolution of Language and of Culture

In today's world, words are in increasing need of qualification. This point is exemplified in the fact that so many behaviors and phenomena continuously challenge the "traditional" usage of certain words (when 'traditional' itself in this sense is only a temporary approximation).

The two words at the forefront of my mind at this moment are "Liberal" and "Conservative". The irony needed to demonstrate my point can be summarized as follows:

It is the 'liberals' who are averse to change when it comes to the "liberalization" of the Tridentine mass. It is the 'conservatives' who are averse (generally speaking) to over enforcement of conservation of natural resources (especially or specifically when it's related to the theory of global warming). I am confident that we could think of another dozen examples of this very thing but these two should suffice.

Technology, starting with Roman roads, including the printing press and next with mass - broadcast media has been instrumental in making the evolution of language a slower and slower process. Travel and mass media have made what used to happen over decades take centuries. (The fullest example is the vernacular going from being a dialect into a separate language altogether over a relatively short period of time in antiquity whereas the change is somewhat slower now).

But with innovations like the internet, change in culture has sped up while change in language has slowed. Because of this, when we say something like "liberal" or "conservative", it can have significantly different connotations than we intend. Chesterton obviously used "liberal" in a completely different world and way that I would use it. That's a given but what is more profound is that even someone in the 1990s would have some noticeable differences in connotation than we would.

Culture and language have always moved at relatively the same speed (I suppose). I think that all this causes tension to the point where we want to super-qualify nearly every word of nearly everything we say. (The disease of relativism which infects our culture is, of course, no help in this problem).

So when I saw Sean Hannity debating Father Euteneur, I labeled Hannity a liberal. "Liberal" to me has evolved into a word nearly synonymous with "wrong" (which makes my job of correctly using it much more difficult). I don't mean at all that if Hannity and I were to debate politics on live tv that I would come out looking like I was uber-right wing. In fact I'm pretty sure I'd look liberal on a few issues.

Now to move away from the political sphere, I think the answer, cliche as it may sound is simple charity. It has always required charity to communicate effectively but it seems to me that this is truer today than it has been in previous times. Or perhaps with such frequent communication we are only more aware of the problem. At any rate, I have a dinner to attend so I will cut it off here and hope that I have given you some food for thought.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Liturgy & Lager Video - This is Worth Watching

Last night's second session of Liturgy and Lager was excellent. We were lucky to have three Catholic bloggers show up including myself, the Crescat and Andrew Preslar. We also had another Catholic there, a PCA elder and a traditional Anglican. I compiled this promo video which itself has some significant highlights from the early part of the discussion. Some of the discussion is really good and worth watching just for that.

If you have the time, watch the full version (18 minutes) on my Facebook page (and if you have a Facebook account, add me as a friend!) Otherwise, here is the shortened 9.5 minute version:

So if you live in the greater Charlotte area and would like to attend one of these send me an email. Our next one is going to be Friday, July 11th.

Six Random Things About Me

I've been tagged by Kim. I already did something like this before which can be found here, but here goes:

The Rules:
1. Link to the person that tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about you in your blog post.
4. Tag six people in your post.
5. Let each person know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know your entry is up.

Six random things about myself never shared on this blog:

1. While I do love beer I don't like Guinness (*Gasp* I know, beer blasphemy. I expect to take some heat on this one.)

2. I'm currently learning Tagalog.

3. I have two uncles who are professional musicians (one a gospel singer and one a pianist).

4. I've read the whole Bible (a couple times) except for the book of Judith and the last chapters of Daniel which were not included in my Protestant Bibles.

5. I never went to college; in fact I almost didn't finish high school. (I understand Chesterton didn't go to college either so I guess I'm in good company!)

6. I grew up on a 75 acre farm (we didn't raise animals) about 10 miles from a very small town outside of Charlotte. We lived in a two story farm house built just after the civil war. We had a wood stove for heat in the winter and it was my job to split the wood and keep the fire going. It was purchased and we moved to the suburbs of Charlotte when I was 16. The property was changed into a camp for disabled children. I understand that it has undergone a lot of change since and I have yet to go back there. I can't bear to see it any other way than I remember it.

I have to leave for the annual statistics conference at SAS Institute tomorrow and I haven't started packing yet and still have lots to do so I'm tagging whoever reads this and wants to repost. (I know I know, here I am breaking rules again)...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Newman on The Infallibility of the Apostles

Cardinal Newman has mentioned that the apostles were infallible as if this were universally recognized among Christians. I had to pause and think about this for a moment. I know that the Protestants would never articulate this, but they believed it.

We know that a Protestant would accept the teachings of an apostle with the same submission that a Catholic accepts the teachings of the Church. The Protestant could not object that "only the Bible is infallible" since with his next breath he would be forced to concede that we only know the Bible because of it's apostolic authority! The Protestant cannot admit that we know the Bible by Church authority for two reasons. 1. It admits of the reality of Catholic Church authority and 2. The Church has canonized books which the Protestant rejects. So the Protestant says that we know the canon because they testify of themselves and that they were written by an apostle or close companion of an apostle. The apostolic authorship is the only objective measure of distinction here. But on what basis can they admit the infallibility of the apostle?

Now I know what's coming up. "We don't think that apostles are infallible" etc... "Only the bible is infallible" (never mind the fact that the apostles were the ones who wrote it and never mind the "fact" that we can't know the Bible except by what they wrote). So in the first century, if we had been alive and had a dispute with Paul we couldn't say "you're wrong" on the basis that only the bible is infallible since, well it wasn't finished yet. You'd have to tell Paul to hurry up and write the rest of his letters so you could dispute him on that basis!

Now I'm getting a little carried away there. But whether we admit the infallibility of the apostles or not (this doesn't mean perfection, it just means that God would not allow them to teach doctrinal error or become a means of destruction for his Word) we still admit an infallible authority in the early Church based on Acts 15. Even Protestants have to admit this. I like what Newman says here:

We have no reason to suppose that there is so great a distinction of dispensation between ourselves and the first generation of Christians, as that they had a living infallible guidance, and we have not.
He had already demonstrated the absurdity of a Church without a living infallible government:
what can be more absurd than a probable infallibility, or a certainty resting on doubt?—I believe, because I am sure; and I am sure, because I suppose.
The advocates of Rome, it has been urged, "insist on the necessity of an infallible guide in religious matters, as an argument that such a guide has really been accorded.
And I'll leave the rest for the reader to seek out him/herself.

Catholics Voting for Pro-Abortion Candidates Like Obama

Lifesite has a great article examining the question of whether or not Catholics who vote for Obama may receive Communion. H/T Pewsitter. This paragraph from (then) Cardinal Ratzinger is a great affront to liberal Catholicism which consistently tries to support pro-abortion candidates like Obama because of the flawed reasoning that he is against us helping Iraq regain stability or that he or someone else is against the death penalty:

"Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia," explained the document. "For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
Which is what I've said several times, the death penalty and or war are nowhere near the gravity of the abortion issue. You can only vote for a pro-abortion candidate if you have proportional reasons; otherwise you're guilty of formal cooperation with grave evil and thereby ineligible to receive Communion. For those Catholics lacking the reason to figure out that death penalty & war (at least in this instance) do not suffice as proportional reasons, Ratzinger has spelled it out for you.

Now, if America was involved in a war in which we had invaded a country for no reason and were ruthlessly killing its citizens, that might be a different story. But the reality is completely different. We have engaged in a war several years ago, the war is over and we have given power back to the occupied territory (first time in history that's happened without a revolution). We are now engaged in rebuilding the country and stabilizing the security there. There is no war to protest anymore! So with that out of the way, the only other issue is capital punishment. While Ratzinger makes it clear here that the death penalty is not completely ruled out in all cases for Catholics (the Catechism agrees), even if it was; we're still talking only a handful of deaths per year for this and all of these are guilty criminals. This cannot by any mutilation of reason be considered a proportional reason to vote for a politician who would gladly allow the mass infanticide we call abortion.

I'm not endorsing McCain as if he's a super candidate. I would have hoped for someone like Brownback. There is a time for "voting one's conscious" but there is also a time where "voting one's conscious" would likely mean electing the worst possible candidate. Unfortunately, no one is electable against Obama except McCain and so not voting for McCain is only helping Obama get into the office.

The problem with being too particular about the candidate is that we're not electing a saint, we're not nominating the candidate for sainthood. We're picking the best candidate to run the country. They needn't be perfectly Catholic in their doctrine and they probably aren't going to be! It's hard to get very far in politics while adhering to Catholic doctrine these days. But we need to put our duty to protect innocent lives above any political idealism.

Of course Bush isn't completely pro-life, and if we had voted against him on those grounds? If he hadn't been elected, the pro-life movement would be considerably set back now. Bush vetoed several culture of death bills and blocked federal funding for ESCR and got 2 pro-life justices on the supreme court. That's major. One more would be enough to overturn Roe V Wade. That's not going to happen if Obama gets elected.

Ok. Enough politics, just my two cents.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Incarnational Theology - the Perpetual Refutation of Gnosticism

Good Catholic theologians always have a systematic theology which stems from the Incarnation. Our systematic doctrine must start here. The Incarnation is the ultimate slap in the face to all things Gnostic - and we like slapping Gnostics in the face :D

From the Incarnation we see that God Himself INCARNATED (not dressed up in) flesh. From this we can derive almost all of Orthodoxy (and where we're not smart enough, the Church can help us). We can see that Christ had a real Body and truly Suffered, we can see that Mary is the mother of God (not only Christ's humanity), we can see that the Eucharist is truly the Flesh of God (as opposed to being spiritual since Jesus wasn't only spiritually a man or wasn't just a spirit indwelling a man - He is a Man) and we can take it much further.

This doesn't mean that we can merely dress up nice and suddenly our hearts are made right of course. But if it weren't for fallen nature, the body or the external would always reflect the internal.

The only reason we know what a soul is, is because the body can die. The body isn't supposed to die. If it weren't for the fall, we'd just know "man" and "woman" not "bodies" and "souls".

In the realm of accidents and substances, we don't know "accidents of wall" and the very substance of a "wall" because the two cannot be separated as far as we know. We do know accidents of "bread" and substance of "bread" because in a unique miracle (consecration) the substance can be changed. It cannot be changed (or at least never is) of a "wall". In the same way, we only know of the separate entities of "body" and "soul" because of the unnatural fact that they can be separated. It was never intended to be that way.

But what I'm getting at is this systematic theology. You can see it clearly in writers like Bryan Cross. We start with a thoroughly and uncompromising embrace of Incarnational-theology and we follow that through -wide open- into whatever truth that will lead us. Actually, the Church did this for us and what she discovered on our behalf is what we call orthodoxy.

It impacts every area of theology and philosophy. It equips us to deal with questions ranging from the proper title of the blessed virgin to whether or not we should dress up to Church and whether or not our Church buildings ought to be beautiful or ugly.

We end up with a stubborn refusal to think of the physical as evil or even inferior. God loves physical things! He made them! When we say God looks at the heart, we forget that He's not blind. Just because He has X-ray vision, doesn't mean He doesn't have normal vision also.

If God doesn't care about exterior appearances then why did He create light? Now this isn't to say that God judges based on appearance or that He has any sort of petty opinions like we do. It is to say though, that God delights in beauty and He even likes three dimensional objects like statues! He likes trees and frogs. He likes rocks and even snails. He saw creation and He saw that it was good. When He said "it is good", He denied every tenant of Gnosticism.

Does it Matter What You Wear to Church?

Surely God cares about the heart and not your clothing right? Oh I can just hear the excuses now! The archbishop of Davao recently reminded the Catholics in the Philippines that the Church is not a place for "personal expression" which is what got me thinking about this to begin with. Incidentally, it fits in nicely with my recent discussion of horizontal versus vertical worship.

So there are two extremes I suppose, and we have to draw the line somewhere. On one end, you'd need to be dressed up to your absolute best every Sunday and on the other, you could literally come in a Megadeth t-shirt, camo shorts and flip flops and God would just be happy to see you there. (Better in jeans and in Church than in a tux and at home I guess?)

And I have considered the fact that I might be tempted to criticize others for coming to mass in shorts or in jeans when if they truly believed Christ was present, they'd be dressed appropriately. For example, let's suppose that we all knew Jesus was going to be literally walking in to Church (in bodily form) would we wear shorts to mass that Sunday? Well supposedly, we Catholics believe that He is literally and bodily present at every mass. So why the flip flops? Yet for me personally, I don't dress in a suit & tie for every Sunday (I never dress in jeans) but if Christ were going to be walking in as described above, I think I'd wear a suit.

So there needs to be a line somewhere, I'm just not sure where. I think that a couple generations ago, not wearing a suit would have been as offensive to them as wearing jeans is to us.

There is though, a certain palpable disrespect and irreverence with most (if not all) of these clowns who show up to mass in their most casual attire week after week. They're the same ones whose teenager children (if they come at all) are wearing the same stuff and walking up to Communion, hands in pockets, disinterested look on their face, head down - "how long until this is over" aura about them.... There's something wrong. I see the dads who wear suits, their children are nicely dressed as well and they're well behaved. Their teenagers seem somehow mildly interested in the Eucharist!

The flip flop crowd is especially attracted to the folk mass. It should be a jamboree of exciting worship and a casual atmosphere . It's more uptight than the high Latin mass I'll tell you that first of all. It's not exciting. You can look at the very faces of every poor disillusioned individual there and see a dismay. Yea, something IS wrong. This isn't what Church is supposed to be like. You made your bed now lie in it. (I remember my wife's first folk mass, she leaned to me and whispered "this isn't like a mass" I said, "you're right, it isn't")

The flip flop Catholic envisions a liberal paradise where reverent liturgy has been upstaged by personal expression and communal diversity. They think by slipping on jeans and shorts, changing Latin into the vernacular and then replacing heraldic melodies with tunes fit only for nursery rhymes that suddenly there will be some outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (As if God is only comfortable in appearing when we are comfortable with ourselves or rather, when we are expressing ourselves fully).

At any rate, I say - dress up for Church. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this topic.

New Patristic Carnival

Phil has Patristic Carnival XII up and running. Well, I know how I'm spending my Thursday night! Go check it out. As always, let Phil know if you're interested in hosting the next one.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Got Tagged

I've been tagged by The Crescat. It's supposed to be my top 5 musicians and their top 5 compositions. I think I'm gonna follow her though and bail out a little quicker, in fact I'm re-writing the rules. Here are the 5 groups of which I have the most songs on my IPOD (and in order of most to least) :

The Inspirations
Chuckwagon Gang
Lonesome River Band
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Allman Brothers Band

I hereby tag...Kim and George.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Vertical & Horizontal Liturgy

Speaking about the difference between horizontal and vertical liturgy can be hard enough among Catholics but on Friday, I will be discussing this topic amongst mixed company - that is, Catholics & Protestants.

First of all, the orientation described here is the orientation of the heart (obviously not of physical orientation as if it were a mere question of celebrating ad orientem versus ad um err.. the other way). But as with everything else, the matter and form should not be separated (and if they are, it usually indicates a serious problem). If your heart is oriented towards liturgical East, I know of no good reason why your body shouldn't be.

Just look at the very orientation of the two images above. On the left, everyone faces together towards the altar (liturgical East) whereas on the right, they are facing each other in self enclosed circle. The focal point is the praise band at center stage. Yet their hearts are supposedly vertical towards God?

Why does it matter what we do with our bodies or our material things if it's truly only the heart that matters? Anyone who does not already plainly recognize why is probably already guilty of neo-Platonism.

Vertical is that worship in which the heart is properly oriented towards God. Horizontal is that worship in which the heart is oriented anywhere else (usually the community or even worse, our own self). Is vertical worship possible in a horizontal environment? Sure, just as horizontal worship is possible in a vertical environment. Yet one environment is conducive to one orientation and obstructive to the other. Peaceful thoughts are also possible in a station wagon full of adolescents traveling cross-country but the environment, as I needn't tell you, isn't conducive.

Can you imagine the farmer that insists on growing his crop in poor soil because good fruit has also been known to grow there? Can you imagine the man who wants to sleep on an airport runway noting that it is somehow possible to block out the noise of the aircraft engines? How about the young man who wants to become a monk who insists on living at a nudist colony? If none of these seem quite right, then why would we think it any less strange the one who wishes to celebrate a vertical worship in a horizontal environment?

The spirit of the law always wishes to follow the letter of the law where possible and or practical. The liberal spirit wants to break the letter of the law as often as possible while still holding on to some resemblance of the "spirit of the law". The liberal wishes to divorce form from matter and follow the Gnostic errors of his fathers, the heretics. He devises no new mistakes. He says he wants to worship in the way that seems best to him. In fact, this error is much older than the Gnostics, it dates back to Cain.

But the Catholic needs to know what positive effects the reformations following Vatican II had and which were unintended. Jeff Pinyan has an excellent post today on the modern liturgical reform which I highly recommend you take the time to read.

Aside from that, I have argued in various places on the importance of liturgy within the very cosmos itself and more recently on Latin as a Veil . Both of these argue from different angles that God has never called us to be His "buddy" or to communicate with Him irreverently or even nonchalantly. Interaction with God is serious business that's why we have liturgy. Liturgy protects our interaction with God from being vulgar.

It also protects us from pride. Liturgy and high, heraldic pomp forces one to lose himself. Modernists think that those who participate in such ritualistic worship are being full of themselves. The reality is precisely the opposite. Those who abandon the ritual and refuse to lose themselves in the rite are the ones who think their self is too important to be lost. Slavish adherence to a rite, especially a religious one, is an act of humility. It shows that there is something bigger than me at work here.

This is why worship should never be enclosed in on itself. We do not gather to "celebrate our diversity" as a community we gather (as a community) to orient our hearts towards God in a vertical, liturgical worship. If we say this is our form, let our matter reflect it. If we say our hearts are oriented towards God, then lets orient our bodies and our words in the same direction.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Book Review: Paul in Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright

I couldn't help but be interested in the book that had caused such a fuss in my former Protestant denomination (even if it did earn me some enemies at Bob Hope airport). I finished it over my camping vacation as I usually do with books. I have to say that overall I was a bit underwhelmed. In Wright's defense it's probably due to both my high expectations (having read his masterpiece Jesus and the Victory of God) and also because whatever was theologically sound in the book, I was already pretty well aware of. (That is, I didn't really learn anything new, unlike with Jesus and the Victory of God where I was still theologically wet behind the ears).

Despite heavy Catholic leanings in theology, Wright approaches biblical study purely as a Protestant in my estimation. There is a comment he made early on in the book which I have been unable to locate where he speaks of the ongoing usefulness of the scholarly approach to studying the Scriptures to keep Scripture study from "collapsing into Church history". I can only agree with him partially here. There is a certain sense where he's right, historical critical method is useful and we can learn from it (but as Pope Benedict pointed out, that can only be admitted up to a point and it does have its weaknesses). On the other hand, there is certainly a sense in which Scripture study does collapse into Church history. The irony of this whole matter is that Wright here and elsewhere, as arguably the top Protestant biblical scholar of our time is only discovering things that Church history would have told us a long time ago if we had only paid attention. That is, the Catholic Church knew all of this without Wright's help.

The book starts off slow and he doesn't really get to the meat of the matter until well into the second half. With all the negative things I've said so far, let me just quote a few passages which I did like and which would save the curious reader the time of wading through the book:

Pg 143:

Despite those who have wanted to insist that 'works' never come into Paul's mind in a positive sense, he clearly envisages not only a future judgment at the bema tou Christou, the Messiah's judgment-seat, but also that this judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of the life that has been led.

Pg 148:

You cannot understand justification by faith in Romans 3 and 4 unless you see it flanked by the long statement of judgment according to works in Romans 2.1-16 and the spectacular scene in Romans 8 which explains why there is indeed 'no condemnation for those who are in the Messiah, Jesus'.

I also found this admission on page 162 interesting:

He [Paul] describes it quite cautiously in Romans 15.20: it is his task to name the Messiah where he has not so far been named, rather than building on anyone else's foundation. This may well be directed at an awareness with the small Roman church that its founder had been Peter himself,
So there it is for what it's worth. All this seems to be scholarly common sense to me. I don't see how anyone can get so hung up on sola fide to absolutely miss the rest of the New Testament. Actually I do, but that is a different post altogether.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Great Outdoors

Er well more like an air-conditioned RV but I'm going camping with my family - our first camping trip as a family. I'll be gone until Sunday so posting may be rather slow for that time period.

Dialogue on Authority - III The Saga Ends?

This is continued from Parts I & II (imagine that), so you may need to read those before it will make sense. See the sidebar. I'll go ahead and spoil it for you though, it doesn't end here because I didn't have time. (Sorry for the length)

Last time, after successfully defeating the reformed "Objector" with a solid Saint Nicklaus style punch to the face, we left our hero: Catholic to face the formidable Anglican Ninja. Can he hold his own? Will the Anglican's ad hominem attacks be too literal for him to handle? Stay tuned for this exciting episode of DOA. Queue theme music.

Yeorgi Orthodox, a towering Russian Orthodox layman and former heavy weight boxer approaches the scene where Ambrose Anglican and our hero, Catholic had recently engaged in a deadly bout of manlitude. The scene is near silent. Orthodox watches from a distance as the bloodied Catholic pulls himself up from the ground.

Anglican: Wow, I really kicked your ass.

Catholic (scoffing as his pride kicks in): Anglican, if you want the truth, the only reason you were able to even lay a finger on me is because the author of our world was trying to feign fairness in his humor at the request of Phil Snider.
Anglican: I beg your pardon?

Catholic: Nevermind. You really laid the smack down on me, I’ll give you that. But I wonder if you can hold your own in a civilized discussion.

Anglican: Hah! Shall we then?

Catholic: So you believe in the visible Church but you reject what has been considered the visible Church for 1500 years prior to yours?

Anglican: That’s a bit of a shallow attack I’m afraid. The Church of England is simply that: the Church of England just as in the Scriptures we may hear the New Testament speak of say “the Church at Jerusalem” or something of that sort. We do not identify The Church of England as the exclusive heir of the title “visible Church” yet we do not deny the principle in the way that some Protestants may.

Catholic: Then what does “visible” mean to you?

Anglican: The “visible Church” is the Catholic Church. But this isn’t to be taken as referring to the Roman Church. This means all Churches which hold the Catholic doctrine. How can Rome call herself the exclusive heir to this title? Given that fragmentation has existed in the Church from her very beginnings (and not merely since the reformation or even the great schism), how can you keep a straight face while saying that Rome alone has consistently been right on doctrines?

Catholic: Ordinarily that is ridiculous of course. But before I answer that, answer me one simple question. Which other city can even come close to making that claim? To have been right all along and is still right?

Anglican: … Constantinople, or Antioch or as far as I’m concerned any of the earlier centers of Christianity. The cities themselves never apostatized and the Churches there still retain apostolic doctrine. I fail to see your point.

Catholic: My point was that..

Anglican: That Rome is unique in her claim to perfect doctrine? Maybe unique in claiming it, but even if we hold Rome to be the standard of true doctrine, other cities have maintained that level of purity as well.

Catholic: But only because and insofar as they have remained in communion with her.

Anglican: I beg to differ, the Orthodox have been out of communion for half of their existence and if they can do it for 1,000 years, they could have conceivably done it for 2,000 and may have. If we can say that the Roman Catholic Church teaches true doctrine, we must also say that the Orthodox Church retains true doctrine. If we deny the Orthodox their truth, we deny Catholics their truth. Furthermore, Rome’s claim and historical influence rests as much or more in the fact that she was the seat of the Roman empire than that she is the heir to Peter’s episcopacy.

Catholic: …

Anglican: It seems as if you debate like you fight.

Catholic: I’m slow witted and slow fisted. Just give me a second.

Anglican: Tell yourself whatever you like, I’m sure you’ll be telling your friends how they “should have seen the other guy”.

Catholic: Ok, the fact that it was the center of the Roman empire is irrelevant for this reason: We know that the conquest of Alexander and the subsequent Hellenization of the classical world helped spread the gospel but it had nothing to do with the validity of the gospel itself. If Jesus had come and taken the gospel to a remote fishing village in southern Africa (ignoring the lack of Judaic backdrop for the sake of the argument here), it would (humanly speaking) never have gotten off the ground. It would have risen, died and been forgotten before it ever reached the Sahara desert. But the gospel would have still been true. And Peter came to Rome for the same reason that Jews came to Alexandria in the centuries before Christ – it was the center of the empire and the capital. Peter came to Rome because it was important but the Roman CHURCH is important because Peter came to it. All of what you said could well be true. But we do have a promise from Christ of Peter which gives further validity to the Roman claim. Jesus did say that the Church would be built on Peter and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.

Anglican: I am inclined here to follow Tertullian and affirm that the Church would be built on Peter as Christ said. But as Tertullian points out, this prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost and his preaching there. The Church is built on the apostolic doctrine which he proclaimed there and which continues today in the Catholic Church (not only the Roman Catholic Church). I agree that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church obviously. But this doesn’t mean “wherever Peter dies, the Church that springs up there will rule all other Churches and will never be wrong on any doctrine”. It is an eschatological hope. If by “the gates of hell will not prevail against her” we mean “she will never be in error” , then we have already proven Christ wrong. Look at the fragmentation that exists in the body of Christ now.
Yeorgi approaches the two and joins the conversation.

But we'll have to develop that next time. I need some sleep.

Latin as a Veil

What's our infatuation with Latin? (We, I mean traditional Catholics) Isn't the vernacular better? Afterall, doesn't language intend to communicate and if it doesn't communicate then is it even doing its job? Are there any purposes to language other than direct transmission of facts and ideas?

In explaining the Tridentine Mass, Charlotte's own Father Reid gave an excellent explanation of the use of Latin and he nailed it on the head. There is a reason why Vatican II insisted that Latin is still preferred liturgically, especially for the mass propers and that all the faithful should know them in Latin. The recent document from the USCCB on music reaffirmed this specifically asking bishops and priests to teach the faithful to chant the missa primitiva which everyone should know. They won't of course.

But why such aversion to Latin? And why is it that it is usually the liberals who don't like it? It isn't the case that liberals usually dislike any other language, say French, while conservatives or traditionalists like it. What is it about Latin?

It has nothing to do with Latin really. None of this does. It has to do with orientation of worship. Space will not suffice to dive into horizontal versus vertical liturgy here, but I want to return to Father Reid's point on Latin.

Father Reid explained that there was a time when you would ordinarily find Christian Churches following in the footsteps of the temple cult (the Eucharistic cult being the fulfillment of) by literally drawing a curtain during the Consecration to protect the sacred mysteries from vulgar eyes. A liberal of course, sees no need for this curtain and would have seen no need for the Temple curtain either. A liberal doesn't believe in vulgarity (not practically anyway).

He explained that Latin acts as a veil in this way. The temple curtain wasn't meant as an affront to the people of God, it was an affirmation that the God they worshiped was so incomprehensibly holy, that they dare not defile His sacredness by approaching with the filth of their sinful lifestyles. Even their righteousness was as "filthy rags" before Him. In this way Latin acts as a buffer between the vulgarity of the world and the heavenly mysteries of the mass. The veil doesn't insult the people, removing the veil insults the mystery. If removing the veil insults the mystery, how much more insulted are they who celebrate it?

When we dumb down the liturgy to make it more accessible, we make it appear less worthy to access! If the mysteries and the divine liturgy is something that can be compromised to the level of a flip flop service, how mysterious is it anyhow? How beautiful is it? Is this life changing power? Is this what you keep calling Heaven on earth? Why does Heaven on Earth look so much like Earth on Earth? In short, if you treat the liturgy with irreverence, how worthy of reverence is it? Your actions speak louder than words.

And the irony is that those who fail to see a need for a veil are those who need the veil the most! They are the exact ones the veil was erected for! The more worthy you think you are of walking into God's living room and chatting with Him, the less worthy you are of such a thing. It is the tax collector who beats his breast and begs God's forgiveness who is found to be justified not the Pharisee who thinks he's already worthy of speaking with God as a buddy.

Then should it be any surprise that the ones who are so opposed to the veil are generally the same ones systematically opposed to Church doctrine? They are pro-abortion, pro women's ordination, pro-contraception etc... and yet they see no need for any buffer between them and God! The ones who affirm the need for the veil, (the traditionalists), are the ones who submit to Church teaching. They reject homosexual behavior, they reject contraception, they are not "pro-choice" and they are obedient to the Bride of Christ. Yet they see a need for a veil, not for others, not for the liberals; for themselves.

But in fact, those who do not see the need for the veil between them and God may not really believe God is there to begin with. Who needs a buffer or veil between you and plain bread?