Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reasons Not to be Catholic

Former Protestants who are now Catholics all thought that Catholics worshiped Mary and that the Catholics were idolaters. In short, former Protestants always thought of the Catholic Church all the same things that Protestant apologists cite as reasons not to be Catholic.

But former Catholics who are now Protestants never thought that sola scriptura was not found in Scripture and ipso facto impossible. They never thought that man could not establish his own Church aside from Christ. They never thought about theology to be frank. In short, they never thought of the Protestant community any of the things which Catholic apologists cite as reasons not to be Protestant.

Protestants & the Bible

Protestants know the bible more than Catholics. But why is this? Do they read the bible more than Catholics? Yea, I think so. But that's not why they know it more. How many Protestants have read the bible all the way through or any more than just a few devotional passages at a time? I'd say not many. I'd wager that there are as many or nearly as many Catholics that have done the same and even if not, a small number may be twice another small number but they're both still small.

I think the place Protestants learn the Bible (I know this is true for me although I have read it cover to cover a couple times) is on Sunday morning. No, not Sunday school - I mean the worship service. Since most Protestant pastors arbitrarily choose their own message, they can (and often do) set up series of sermons. This sets up a storyline: part 1 this Sunday, part 2 the next and so on.

Human memory and comprehension, I think, (again, true for me I know; I think it's true for others) is highly contingent upon chronology because the memory has an uncanny ability to repeat in sequence. Many people can sing hundreds of songs from start to finish but maybe only a few that they could sing starting from the middle.

So when you have a series of chronological sermons on say, Joshua's conquest of Canaan, you end up with a clear picture of what happened and how. When you hear a sermon that references a portion of an OT passage as allegory to a gospel passage (not usually in chronological order), it would be pretty difficult to piece this puzzle together.

I think this is more of a reason why Protestants know the Bible better than Catholics rather than private reading. Could be wrong. Any thoughts?

Least of These

When I walk into a parish, I can usually spot the one who, out of all men present, would give the worst homily. He's often wearing a cassock.

Other Christian communities find and pay the best speakers as their pastors but priests are called (by God) to sacramental ministry and some of them don't even earn a salary. God is in the business of calling poor speakers ever since Moses. It isn't just their lack of charisma; many times the real disappointment is their inability to teach. I think people rarely absorb a thing they say. Preaching.... Catholics just aren't good at it.

But God delights in these sorts of things, He always has. If men chose the pastor, he'd always be charismatic, good looking and an excellent teacher. Often God calls "the least of these" that His glory may be manifest and not the speaker's.

It goes without saying that there are plenty of fantastic priests out there. To all of them (whether great or not), thank you for answering God's call.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Small Sins

"Small sins" seem more terrifying than big ones sometimes. Boredom worries me more than theft. Most Americans think that they needn't worry about boredom because they're so busy. But boredom doesn't consist in not being busy as one can easily be bored of that which keeps him busy. And boredom is a sin barely distinguishable from pride. The humble man is thrilled with small things, but even big things bore a prideful man.

Gluttony is that small sin which we will conquer effortlessly tomorrow but requires superhuman effort to conquer now. That is why it is so dangerous.

And I'm much less worried of how I'll react if a loved one dies than if someone cuts me off in traffic. I'm sure I won't curse God if a close relative dies, in fact I think I'll seek Him more closely. But in lesser things like stubbing my toe, my computer crashing or my wife taking too long while shopping, the last thing I do is seek God more closely.

Father, help me to be faithful in a little that I may learn to be faithful in greater things.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Book Review: The Early Church by Henry Chadwick

I've had this book on my shelf for quite a while and have finally gotten around to reading it. Overall, I have a favorable impression of it but as a Catholic, some of the slant left a bad taste in my mouth and so I'll have more to say here about what I didn't like than what I did. So I hope this doesn't come off as overly critical.

With the exception of only one passage involving (what I thought to be) excessive name-dropping (or rather, introducing too many new "characters" at once), I thought the book was extremely readable. His style is accessible and lends itself both to speed reading and consumption by small chunks.

I did particularly appreciate the 18th chapter on Christian worship & art. It was as succinct and accurate of a history on the subject as I've seen and could easily be read outside the context of the book. I also appreciated his fidelity to chronology in the ante-Nicene period (after that he disregards any chronological interest like most early Church historians).

It always seems to me like most Church historians have a tendency to rush through the first 300 years (with obligatory treatments of the Gnostic controversy and persecutions under various emperors) so they can get to Arius, Nestorius and the Monophysites. There's nothing wrong with this of course, I'm just personally more interested in the first 300 years than the Christological & Trinitarian controversies of the 4th & 5th centuries.

Now, the task of any non-Catholic historian is to show how moving from point A (the apostles) to point B (the Catholic Church of the 5th century) could not have been a wholly divine movement (i.e. God didn't approve of the move as a whole). It's tricky to do this since most of the important developments during this time period are indispensable to Christianity as we know it. So the greatest weapon here is to cast doubt.

Chadwick uses doubt to his advantage on a number of occasions, most notably when the secular authorities become interested (to whatever degree) in the affairs of the Church. But this approach to me seems about as respectable as Raymond Brown's approach to biblical scholarship (that is, that the more doubt you cast on tradition, the more genuine of a scholar you are). In Brown's case though, his approach often sets him at odds with his own tradition which, whatever else you can say about Chadwick - at least his scholarship is consistent with the Anglican tradition. But this post-19th century approach fails on a number of levels (with biblical scholarship and with Church history). Scholars may cast doubt on Christian developments as long as they wish, but unless we concede that God is only able to accomplish His earthly work in a tidy way (i.e. that God is unable to accomplish His work if men make the circumstances messy), then whatever objections might arise from these doubts will have little persuasive power over clear thinkers.

He never makes the mistake of arguing from silence, but the silence in his argument is noticeable on more than one occasion. Example: early in the book, he calls the notion that Peter was in Rome for 25 years "3rd century legend" but offers no reason why we should accept 20th century scholarship from one who is not in communion with Peter's successor over "3rd century legend" from one who was. I'll take the latter any day of the week. Yet acceptance of the traditional date for Peter's arrival in Rome (circa 42 AD) by no means necessitates the belief that he was continuously in Rome for 25 years. We know he was in Jerusalem in 49 or 50 AD for the council as attested in Acts 15 for starters.

I find it decidedly ironic (and even comical) that he has absolutely nothing positive to say of any pope until Leo (that pope in which Protestant historians abandon all attempts to downplay Petrine primacy). I have to believe that at least one of those 44 bishops had at least some admirable feat or trait. Chadwick takes every opportunity to embellish any perceived negative trait (such as Victor's apparent rash nature). In fact, by a long shot he says more positive things of the heretic Pelagius than of all popes (including Leo) combined and this is not an exaggeration. Chadwick spends several pages defending what he sees as true Pelagianism (as opposed to the caricature which Augustine and the Catholic Church condemned.

But in the end, if it weren't in his job description to cast doubt on the Petrine primacy then I suppose he'd be a Catholic historian and not an Anglican one. He is skilled in his subtlety and comes off far more objective than many historians that I've read and I'm sure it would be more than enough to fool most. But when you quote Augustine (regarding the Pelagian controversy) saying "causa finita est", a student of Church history will have easy guesswork as to what else you ommitted from that famous line and for what reasons.

For these reasons then, (and probably some others that don't come to mind), I would recommend this book to those who already have a good grasp on Church history, but not for those looking for an introduction. The style and readability certainly lends itself to the latter but he makes a good number of subtle errors and unfair embellishments that a beginner in Church history would be unlikely to know.

And in case you're wondering, the line should read "roma locuta est; causa finita est."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Would Christ Have Lived Forever if Not Crucified?

This is an excerpt from my comment on Taylor Marshall's discussion of Mary's painless delivery of Christ.

We know that death, the ultimate penalty of original sin, was suffered by Christ and traditionally Mary as well.

Objection 1: Christ was murdered, He did not die a "natural" death and would not have.

Reply to Objection: The way in which "Natural death" causes men to die is no less physical than that way in which Christ died. In the case of the latter, motion causes vital bodily functions to cease and in the case of the former, motion which is necessary to sustain vital bodily functions ceases.

Merry Christmas

Posting has been slow for the combined reasons of business (family, work etc...) and work on a new collaborative project which I suspect will be of high interest to those of you who read this blog. Look for an announcement after the new year.

And so to all my readers and their families, Merry Christmas.

BTW, did you know there are exactly four things required to be in any given orthodox icon of the nativity? Notice, they are all present in this one.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

O Magnum Mysterium

O Magnum Mysterium; the impassible God took on mortal flesh. This, perhaps the most defining of Catholic dogmas, the appropriate centrality of the Incarnation has affected my theological orientation more than any other new thing for me in becoming a member of that same Church which He who was incarnated founded.

The incarnation, yes that event in which God was made present should not be far in our minds from the Church –that body in which the Kingdom of heaven is made present.

And if ever we think we have understood it, then we can rest assured we have missed it altogether. We would be further from truth still were we ever to grow comfortable with it. Yes, I’d say every time you think of the Incarnation it ought to startle and offend you. Every time. O Magnum Mysterium.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Critical Liturgical Catechesis

Jeff Pinyan has a new blog called Critical Mass on liturgical catechesis for the Roman Rite which promises to be a great read. Be sure to check it out and subscribe. (Wish some clergy I know would).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christ Mass

Next time I hear a Protestant complain about taking "Christ" out of Christmas I'm going to object "well you took mass out it".

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Another Presbyterian Crosses the Tiber

I've just found the blog of Dr. Jonathan Deane, another former PCA/OPC Presbyterian who was confirmed in September 2008. This post describes why he became Catholic. Be sure to give him a hearty welcome to the Church.

Community and the Individual

I loathe the fact that "progressive" Catholics have stained the word "community" to the point where I'm not even sure how to use it in a positive light anymore.

Recently at a conference on the Eucharist sponsored by "Renew International", the nun literally spent more time on Christ's presence in the community of believers than in the Blessed Sacrament. I have no problem with mentioning the mystical presence of Christ in the community but I do when it competes with or marginalizes the real presence in the Eucharist. And no wonder then, that the songs were all about us as "the community" and not about Christ. But more disturbing is the fact that none of this was due to carelessness but a reflection of false theology which is still lingering on from the 70s & 80s because when I criticized the music selection, she responded that it was proper to sing about ourselves because Christ is present in us.

Yesterday at a retreat preparing for my son's first reconciliation (and subsequently communion), the video shown on reconciliation I swear used the word "community" more times than "confession", "reconciliation" and "sin" combined. The video went so far as to marginalize private ordinary confession and explicitly recommend the communal reconciliation services.

In fact, the real offense of any sin, it seemed, was that it weakened the integrity of the community rather than committing a personal offense against God. In this way, the individual's offense is against the community even with private sins (which may be true to some degree) but not against himself. It was never demonstrated that sin is that which is contrary to reason and a private sin always offends my relationship with God (in addition to the community). I think this convolution of sin and its consequence makes a perfect springboard for dissenting views of various kind. What is lacking here is clear expression that an individual is fully culpable in God's eyes for his sins (as opposed to being just another a weak link in a community of weak links).

I certainly don't say any of this to the exclusion of some level of communal interaction between God and man (as opposed to strictly individual-God interaction). That is, the corporate aspect of salvation so clearly present in Israel and subsequently the Church is clearly appropriate to reflect on but not at the expense of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the individual's personal culpability for his or her sins.

So I'm getting a better idea of where the dissenters are coming from and perhaps this will lead to more fruitful dialogue. It is unfortunate that the infection of this weak theology has lingered for so long even as the tide is clearly turning.

St. Augustine of Hippo, pray for the Church that clear theology regarding the individual and sin triumph over the misleading focus which leads to dissent. Amen.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Truest Thing I've Read in a While

Dmitry Chernikov (whose blog I recently discovered and happy to have done so) has an excellent post exposing egalitarianism for the "cheap envy" it depends on.
If the standard of living of today’s average worker were to reach the level of today’s average millionaire, and the standard of living of today’s average millionaire were to reach the level of today’s average billionaire, then this apparently happy development would not, oddly enough, cause the egalitarians to shut up. They’ll continue to cry bloody murder even if, as Rothbard puts it, the workers “only enjoy one yacht apiece while capitalists enjoy five or six.”
I would highly recommend this quick read.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

New L&L Video

Over the top? Of course. L&L VIII video is online for your viewing pleasure.

Patristic Carnival XVIII

Phil has Patristic Carnival XVIII up. Be sure to check it out.

Monday, December 08, 2008

On This Day in History

Three years ago, I walked into an RCIA class room at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC - still a head strong, independent, sola scriptura Protestant (not that all Protestants are head strong but I was). I always knew that Mary would stand immovable between me and the Catholic Church but I was curious. Still, as much as I hated Mariology, there was some part of me that knew deep down that some aspect of Mariology contained just what I lacked.

I am under no delusion that it was by chance that my first RCIA session fell on the feast of the Immaculate Conception - the most deplorable Catholic dogma of them all. Either God has a peculiar sense of humor or the Devil isn't thinking things through real well. Yes this frog was tossed into a pot of water already boiling.

The deacon gave the homily that evening (mass preceding Inquiry as it was) and he trumpeted the suspicious Catholic apology "we don't worship Mary, we honor her". Oh brother. What did I get myself into?

An hour later, I received some less than convincing reasons to be at ease with Mary and a certain inquirer also present that night later confided in me that he was sure he'd never see me again. No, that very night I bought a rosary for a few bucks on the internet although it would be another year before I was comfortable using it. In fact, I used that same cheap rosary this morning.

Immaculate mother Mary, pray for me and for all separated brethren. May we receive you as our mother that Christ may truly be our Lord.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sacred Music Colloquim

Wish my music director would go to this:

Catholic Blog Networking

From John Mallon:
John Mallon is trying to assemble an email list of Blogs in the English speaking world, especially in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines. He is currently working as Contributing Editor for Inside the Vatican magazine, doing media relations for Human Life International, and assisting at the Envoy Institute in a promotional capacity. He has two degrees in theology and frequently has items of interest to Catholic Bloggers worldwide. With 25 years of experience in the Catholic Press, he has found that major secular outlets are often closed to these messages. If you have or know of Blogs that would be interested in receiving press releases and other pertinent materials for your Blogs, he would very much appreciate getting a mailing list of these blogs for this purpose. This is not spam. Anyone not wishing to receive these materials will be removed from the list immediately upon request. Catholic Blogs are absolutely critical for spreading credible information on the Church. This mailing list could serve as a News Agency supplying news and other information to Catholic Blogs.

It is absolutely maddening trying to harvest emails off of Blogs, where people won't post their emails. He is only interested in people who want to receive these messages, not bothering anyone.

For more on John Mallon please visit his website at:

Please let me know if you can help.

Thanks & God bless you,

John Mallon



Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Catholic Assurance of Salvation

"Can a Catholic Enjoy Assurance of Salvation?" - so we asked at our November session of Liturgy & Lager led by Andrew Preslar. Andrew argued (convincingly) that we indeed can. I would recommend his summary of the question (as linked to above) and Dr. Judisch's longer post on the same topic here.

But Andrew's conclusions caused some controversy that evening and one of the attendants protested (and I don't mean subtly). The Catholic's knee jerk reaction (especially those of us who are more prone to polemics) is quite understandable given the history of this issue. But it seems to me that for a Catholic to outright reject "assurance" of any kind is a false dilemma if we take a moment to clear away the fog.

The fallacy is saying that one of the following two extremes must be true:

1. A Christian may have "certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error" (to include the absolute confidence that one would never fall from grace in the same way that 2 and 2 will never equal 5).

2. A Christian must be absolutely agnostic regarding his or her salvation (e.g. Mother Theresa, nearing the end of her earthly life, would be no more certain that she was heaven-bound than hell-bound).

The Catholic knee jerk reaction would amount to this false dilemma it seems. Yet if there are degrees in between those two extremes, then we must say that assurance of some kind is permissible and even expected of a Catholic.

Catholic theology, like good Protestant theology, allows and yes... demands some assurance of salvation not as part of a spiritual self evaluation but as part of proper soteriology. Our salvation is given freely therefore our assurance is in Him who gives. What uncertainty exists is not a denial of the sacramental efficacy (the sacraments effect not affect) but the perpetual humility of the Christian who depends fully on God's grace.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Praise Music in Church

Jeffrey Tucker at The New Liturgical Movement has a nice editorial on praise music in church and why it doesn't belong.