Thursday, January 31, 2008

Spritual Aloneness

Here's an honest and personally moving post on spiritual aloneness (or loneliness) with which I can sympathize.

I wonder how many pew-sitters feel that they have deep union with the people with whom they are in communion? Why do I get funny looks when my "prayer request" at church is to give thanks for the large turn-out at the March for Life? I've opened myself to my pastor about my spiritual struggles. Once. We don't talk about it anymore. Is this a common feeling, or is it peculiar to people who think too much about "non-fundamentals"?

It's been hard enough to even have spiritual unity with my wife, so perhaps it's an irrationally high aspiration to share spiritual unity of thought with more than one or two other folks at church.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Newman: Calvinism Becomes Unitarian

Newman asserts several times in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine that Calvinism leads to Unitarianism. E.g., "Calvinism has changed into Unitarianism: yet this need not be called a corruption, even if it be not, strictly speaking, a development; for Harding, in controversy with Jewell, surmised the coming change three centuries since, and it has occurred not in one country, but in many" (p.175).

And later, "Principle is a better test of heresy than doctrine. Heretics are true to their principles, but change to and fro, backwards and forwards, in opinion; for very opposite doctrines may be exemplifications of the same principle. Thus the Antiochenes and other heretics sometimes were Arians, sometimes Sabellians, sometimes Nestorians, sometimes Monophysites, as if at random, from fidelity to their common principle, that there is no mystery in theology. Thus Calvinists become Unitarians from the principle of private judgment. The doctrines of heresy are accidents and soon run to an end; its principles are everlasting" (181).

These claims were not supported by a citation, and Newman's contemporary knowledge is long lost to me. So I put the following question to the historically adept Tertium Quid (via e-mail), "Cardinal Newman proclaims on several occasions in his "Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine" that Calvinism has led to Unitarianism. Do you know what he's talking about?"

For his fascinating and beautifully written reply, see here. This must have taken some time, so I am grateful (and at a lawyer's billing rate, I probably owe T.Q. a cold one or two...).

Federal Vision Fission

Big doings for the PCA. The highly controversial Auburn Avenue Church, along with its Pastor Steve Wilkins, has left the denomination to join the start-up "CREC". Wilkins has been a major player in the emerging "Federal Vision" movement, also called by his church's name, "Auburn Avenue Theology". This theology was recently found unacceptable by a PCA committee charged to investigate it. I discussed this church here and here, in the context of the use of Creeds.

The vote occurred just two days ago, and the CREC has already updated their church roster. I think they're thrilled to have them as a "mission church" under "oversight".

Here's an excellent critique of this move. I agree with the critique's spirit -- that eschewing your authorities while facing presbyterian discipline to carve out a new denomination that's a more comfortable fit is a dubious proposition. I do not agree with one conclusion, however, "I say give up on the denominational model and just be Christian for crying out loud!" It is impossible to "just be Christian". The word is not self-defining, and there is no authoritative agreement on what it means. See my critique here, noting that this view is its own creed (so arguably making a formless denomination of its adherents).

At any rate, I don't follow the Federal Vision debate too closely, but closely enough to know that this is big news to the people involved. Pray for Unity! At least they waited for the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; they missed it by two days.


To clear up any confusion about my "handle", see here.

It's an old nickname. I've been shedding me thinly-veiled anonymity of late, so figured I would clear the water on this one. It's not some catchy Greek word (to my knowledge!).

Ornament Of Our Race

[Now seems like a good time to make this simple observation: I am richly blessed by so many faithful Christians sharing of their knowledgeable about many different Christian groups. Thank you all, and I hope that the discussions here, and my own simple contributions, can be at least partly edifying to you in return for how very edifying your contributions are to me.]

Severus of Antioch (ca. 465-538), Patriarch of Antioch, who incidentally was tied to a moderate form of Monophysitism, said something that reminded me of a recurring Marian angst of mine. Maybe it's not so much an angst as it is a confusion, so I'll share it for discussion.

He said, "More than any other saints, she is able to lift up prayers for us, and we glory to have obtained her as the ornament of our race." (Fr. L. Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p. 315, emphasis added).

I would like to be clear that my anxiety is with the description of Mary as the ornament of our race (not about intercessory prayers). I read this type of expression of Marian appreciation and admiration often. She is the preeminent human, the 'solitary boast' of the human race. I'm anxious because this seems to call into question the full humanity of Christ. These types of expressions are centered around the premise that Mary is humanity's link to divinity. Indeed, she was the culmination of the righteous root of the people of the Old Covenant. From her flowered the Messiah. But, while a flower, he too was of the root. He was of the same Genus and species. If Mary is humanity's solitary boast, or our greatest ornament, it seems that would be because Christ is of a different kind of humanity. No, I say, Christ is our sole boast (or, if you insist, He and Mary are our two 'boasts', she because of him).

I think I know a rebuttal view, but do see some logic in my above concern all the same. The rebuttal would go something like this: We rightly say that Sin came to humanity through Eve. But we also rightly say "death came into the world through a man" (1 Cor 15:21), because Adam is our federal head. By analogy, we can rightly say that righteousness came to humanity through Mary, that she is the ornament of our race, and still really mean that Christ is our true sole boast, as our true federal head.

Is there another view about such expressions of Mary as the pinnacle of humanity? Am I being uncharitable?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Monophysite Bread and Wine

[Please read the combox of this post, where I was led to make necessary corrections or qualifications to my comments on Monophysitism.]

Eutychian Monophysitism, condemned at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), taught that the Lord was in two natures before the incarnational union, but one nature after (see here). I think Reformed Protestants rarely realize our confessional belief that Christ is bodily in Heaven as He is spiritually (see e.g., WCOF, Ch. VIII, Sec. 4). This belief flows from a proper understanding of the hypostatic union against Monophysitism, so it's important to retain!

But I wonder, is the Reformed view of the communion affected with at least a touch of Monophysitism?

The Catholics believe that Christ is fully present in their consecrated elements, both in His body and His Divinity. The Anabaptists taught that Christ's one sacrifice on the cross is memorialized with the Supper, so that neither His body nor His Divinity are made present to the communicant. But the Reformer has somewhat of a hybrid position: worthy participants "really and indeed" receive and feed upon Christ by faith. He is, then, "really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance. (WCOF, Ch. XXIX, Sec. 7)" Contrariwise, the wicked who receive the elements not in faith do not receive the thing signified by the bread and wine, but are still especially guilty for unworthily approaching the Supper (Id., Sec. 8).

Christians daily benefit from Christ's grace. This happens invisibly; we do not receive Christ when He answers our prayers, but we receive His grace. However, in the Supper, Jesus Christ and not only His graces are "really and indeed" present and received. But if Christ is indivisibly and eternally Incarnate, joined by the hypostatic union, it seems an improper speculation to state the we receive Him in only one nature. Even entering Heaven Christ retained the union of His natures. Why would He only dole out one nature for the benefit of His Church?

Further, I sense an illogic in the notion that those without faith receive nothing, and yet still eat and drink to their own damnation (Id.). This received-in-faith-only view of the communion seems to do great violence to 1 Cor. 11:29: "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. " There is no spiritual presence to cause harm to the unbeliever, since that presence only exists for the faithful. There is no bodily presence, of course, under the Reformed view. There is nothing left, then, that should not be consumed by the unbeliever.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Argue The Forest, Not The Trees

I blogged here that I could no longer confess the doctrine of sola Scriptura, leaving me in a sort of spiritual no-man's-land. That sentiment has not changed since September 1, 2007, but it has not clearly progressed either.

Marian angst (I use this as a term of art; let me know if you're not sure what I mean) is a recurring problem. At times it feels critically acute, and at other times the sensation is minimal. I believe that it is probably a proxy feeling for overall anxiety over subscribing to a belief that the (i.e., "a", or "one") Church holds infallible interpretive authority over Divine Revelation. Therefore, and because of the formality of its decrees, this feeling is most acute vis-à-vis the Catholic Church, even where the Orthodox Churches may articulate Marian doctrines with stronger emotive language.

So while I have toed the line of entering the Catholic Church for some time, this recurring angst makes me think I need to step back and try as well as possible to objectively recapitulate and reconsider what I believe to be the constitution of Christ's Church. While I realize that I am incapable of objectively viewing the church, I'd like to try all the same. By “objective”, I will mean “expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations” (Merriam-Webster).

I think that I tried something similar here, where I asked five questions related to authority that I hoped were fair and not loaded to lead to a certain conclusion. Here I will try to describe the analytical steps I think I need to pursue, without using the form of question and answer. There’s an old law school trick to writing I’ll use: Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion. I’ll try that here.

To be clear, I don’t mean to discuss issues like whether the Catholics are wrong for 'violating' the “call no man father” verse, or the Orthodox are wrong because they had a Sultan select their hierarch, or the Protestants are wrong for excluding the apocrypha/deuterocanon. My experience is that for every such argument, there is some reply, and for most, there is an able reply. I do mean to discuss the overall analytical framework I think I need to use when considering ecumenicism, and how those facts and arguments should fit within the framework.


I'd like to consider whether the claims by any one of the major branches of Christianity are objectively superior to the others (I realize this is an idealist approach).

First, I assume that anyone engaged in this discussion, like me, believes and so assumes that Christ is True and not false. From there I assume that each candidate Church model sees at its core a mission to preserve and transmit the Gospel-Truth (i.e., Logos or Word). Other functions of the Church (e.g., sacramental, communal) flow from the substance of the Gospel-Truth that the Church has preserved and transmitted. In this way, the candidates, indeed all of Christianity, aims to bear Witness to the world of the Messiah’s coming. Church, in my expression “candidate Church model” simply means God's people, however additionally defined by the particular candidates (in other words, I don’t mean to load that expression with lots of biased meaning).

So assuming that Christ is True, and that the candidates, as witnesses, all preserve and transmit His Truth, the discussion instantly turns to authority. By what authority does a candidate articulate and develop the Gospel-Truth? Disputes of authority have also been the catalysts of all schism within Christianity, so it’s a natural focal point.

A recent discussion helped me to see three major authority views or camps within Christianity: Papalism, Conciliarism and Biblicism. Each understands the Church's place in transmitting and safeguarding the Logos differently, and each has a different conclusion as to what the primary and subordinate principles of the Logos are. I suppose I could add "Individualist" to these three, which would look approximately like this, "whatever I understand to be true about Jesus from my feelings and from whatever I accept to be true from this book the Bible." I'm not going to add that though.

The nature and essence of the Logos is the fundamental question for the Church; to understand the nature and essence one must understand the Church, to understand the Church, one must see the Church as either Papalist, Conciliarist, or Biblicist (that is, one must have a view of authority). So my issue becomes which of these three camps has the objectively superior claim as preservationist, propagator, and articulator of the Logos.

The Biblicist believes that all authority for the Church is contained within the Bible. The Logos was exclusively preserved within its written contents, and it has been propagated through the ages. In our culture, while Biblicist groups are diverse in outward appearance, they share this view of authority – the Logos is co-extensive with the contents of the Protestant Bible. The Baptists and those that describe themselves as "fundamentalist", many branches of Reformed, Lutheran and other traditional denominations that call themselves "Evangelical", and perhaps Charismatic groups would fall within this camp.

The Conciliarist believes that authority for the Church is contained within ecclesial councils. The Logos has been preserved and propagated within the Bible and articulated by authoritative councils. I have learned of a Protestant group that considers itself conciliarist, but the traditional Anglicans and the Orthodox are also in this camp. They would add that the Logos is preserved and propagated within the Church proper, the Bible representing only a part of this Gospel-Truth. [Note: in an attempt to remain objective, I accept the candidates’ claims as true, so I accept the traditional Anglican position that they are not protestant.]

I am only newly aware of the protestant conciliarist position, known as the "magisterial protestant". This camp believes that the councils of the church, while not the source of all authority, still have real authority. These reformers perceive the state, at least classically, as playing some role in empowering these authorities and enforcing their authority. These reformers seek to turn back to the fundamental roots of the Reformation, and seek to subscribe to its traditional confessions, depending on where one lives (see here for some subscribers to this position). I'm still learning about this view, so I should not try to explain it further. But suffice it to say that the Bible is not the source of all authority to the magisterial protestant conciliarist, but is the source of ultimate authority. Only the Bible is infallible, and all articulation of the Logos will be measured by the authorities (and not the laity) against the Bible.

The Orthodox and the traditional Anglicans are within the Conciliarist camp, and have an older claim to its essence. They are both distinct from the magisterial protestants by their subscription to Apostolic Succession, that is, the belief that their Bishops have ties by succession of ordination back to the Apostles. [Note, again, I accept the traditional Anglican position as true for these purposes.] The authority of the Church and its evangelization and articulation of the Logos subsist within the Church itself. I have only recently begun making myself smart on the Anglo-Catholic view that their ties to the Apostles extend through the days of Henry VIII, so I will stop here (see here for a subscriber to this position). I don't mean to minimize distinctions between traditional Anglicans and the Orthodox (and that would be an absurd undertaking), but only leave it hear because if I tried to go on, I might paint the traditional Anglican position in an unfair light.

Finally, the Papalists (and, as I've learned, this is not the same as the derogatory use of the term "Papist"), who are not just Latin Rite (Roman) Catholics, but also their Eastern rites, believe that the Pope is not only first in honor among Bishops in council, but has actual authority over the other Bishops. Under this view too, authority exists within the Church, but binding dogmatic articulations of the Logos can flow from councils and the Pope alike.


By what standard can I objectively judge which candidate is the right witness to and articulation of the Gospel-Truth in the 21st century? I must use reason and faith, which includes prayer, to do so. The Scriptures cannot be an independent standard by which to reach the right conclusion because 1) not all 'candidate' churches believe in the same canon of Scripture, and 2) their interpretation or articulation is part of the very essence of this dispute (i.e., what is the "Truth" handed down through the ages from Christ, assuming He is True). The Scriptures could be used, however, as a measure of the internal integrity of each candidate's claims. E.g., if a book identified by Church X as canonical and infallible says "Blessed are the poor", and that candidate church teaches, "Blessed are the Healthy and Wealthy", we find evidence that Church X is not teaching the Truth of Christ. But ultimately this would only be evidence that must be judged by reason because of competing interpretations and hermeneutic methods. I guess I have no better rule, then, than reason (which gauges the internal integrity of each belief system) informed by faith (which relies on prayer).


I have (personally) ruled out the Biblicist position, as I stated in my post rejecting the validity of the Biblicist view of sola Scriptura cited above. The position lacks internal integrity, as it commands that all authority flows from the Bible alone, yet the Bible does not articulate a Bible alone position, nor is it self-identifying, in terms of its canon. Indeed, a multitude of rationales have been used to justify the existing Protestant canon. I withhold personal judgment on whether the magisterial protestant means something different by “sola Scriptura” than does the Biblicist, and whether his view of authority would allow the creation of canon. I believe that the majority view in my denomination (the PCA) is Biblicist, though there seems to be strong (and perhaps growing) resistance to this position (that is, there are factions of magisterial reformers who recognize the need for other authority, albeit fallible).

I started with the Biblicist position because it could be easily removed from my table. This is my no-man’s land: Church ≠ Biblicism, therefore Church = Conciliarism or Papalism. From here we come to real contention at every turn. I analyze the remaining candidates by first asking whether the Church’s own authority is fallible or infallible. The infallible camp consists of the Orthodox and Catholics, and the fallible camp consists of traditional Anglicans and magisterial Protestants.

I am surprised to find that, so long after I started my meager efforts at discerning the proper constitution of Christ’s Church, I am not certain that it has to be infallible. One of the earliest ‘shoes to drop’ for me was coming to see that a fallible church fallibly identifying a canon of scripture and a doctrine about its infallibility had serious problems of logic. And yet I read the earnestness of certain members of these camps, and can’t help but think that I might just be missing a deeper truth to their views. I still hold out some shred of hope, that the Holy Spirit could work within and preserve even a fallible Church. After all, early particular churches fell into grave error (e.g., the Church at Corinth), as did the Apostle Peter (as Protestants are fond of observing).

Taking a Newman-like view of doctrinal development may be fruitful in this context. The true principles of the fallible-camp candidates should come to light over time, as their theorems are put to practice and bear (or fail to bear) fruit. This method of thinking speaks somewhat against the magisterial protestant, who holds a model of church in his head, but can point to its existence nowhere (and its failure everywhere). The Anglican too is plagued by failures from within his camp.

But I need to consider and pray more about this before ruling out the fallible camp. I still don’t understand how the magisterial protestant differs from the Biblicist in essence, and I have only recently come to think I should give the traditional Anglican claim to Apostolic Succession more consideration. Perhaps their take that there was real, but fallible authority makes more sense than I give it credit. They would say that the authorities are the only ones who should correct error, not the laity (although in the magisterial protestant view, if the authorities become entirely corrupt, the faithful laity are free to, indeed called to assume the reigns and Reform).

On the infallible side of the house, the analysis necessary to make a rational conclusion between the claims of the Orthodox and the Catholics is a real head-splitter. I see two main ways to resolve this quest.

First, one could accede to the hemisphere in which God has them. If you’re in the West, just stay with the Western Church. However, this makes relative the fundamental differences that exist between the candidates’ view of authority, and the doctrinal views that have flowed therefrom over the last millennium plus. In other words, you would be saying that it doesn’t really matter to God that the filioque was added; what matters is that we participate with the representation of the Church that is native to our own land. Further, the geographical East-West distinction may be more notional than real. The Papalist camp does have a real presence (pardon the pun) in the East, and the Orthodox churches in the states are working hard to move beyond being mere immigrant churches, such that their presence as Western churches is real too (see this excellent post discussing how Orthodoxy in America is becoming “native”). So, while I don’t find a homesteading view all that compelling, I respect it, and I hear its advocacy often. The six-of-one-half-dozen-of-the-other crowd can point to impressive similarities between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, but similarity is only plain when seen relative to the Protestantism.

Second, one can immerse one’s self in history. This effort overwhelms me. I have read and read and read the primary sources (the Eastern and Western Fathers) as well as secondary sources (books on church history, particularly describing both ‘halves’ of the Church). I feel like I only barely understand what happened after the early persecution ended, and what happened after the first millennia rolled into the second. I suppose that coupled with prayer and faith, applying reason to a deep study of history could give one the knowledge of which infallible-camp Church has the claim of Truth in its evangelization and articulation of the Logos. The temptation to resolve this difficult and time-consuming method of analysis by leaning on the homesteading view should be carefully avoided.

The fundamental dispute between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is about authority, so if I rule out fallible conciliar churches, I would be forced to decide between the infallilble conciliar model for church, and the infallibile papal model. The factual arguments in favor of each are too much for me to get into here, but I will note that arguments of Biblical and Patristic support for Papalism are persuasive, as are arguments about the meaning of the Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15 and early church conciliar practice.

Finally, reason needs to turn its eyes to the doctrines of these churches. If Catholic or Orthodox Marian dogmas and doctrines, for example, conflict with one’s use of reason, informed by faith, it could provide an independent basis for looking elsewhere. This has been the premise behind my view that if all logic councils against a sola Scriptura view, but I believe that all alternative groups practice idolatry (let’s say), I must have been mistaken about sola Scriptura.


While my attempt at objectively viewing the church has not yielded any clear winners (and if it did, I’d probably be further away from objectivity than I hope), it has taught me something. Those deeply entrenched and self-assured of the rightness of their own position ought to be well equipped to explain themselves. We should realize that each of our trench-warfare debate points (like whether we can call any man father, whether praying to saints is right or wrong, etc.) fits in a larger debate about what the Church is and is meant to be. For the sake of unity, we must try to see the forest through the trees.

[This is the best I can do with the time I have, and I realize that this is a paltry effort. I am going to keep this document at least for my own personal reference, and will update and correct my use of terms, analysis and conclusions as problems are pointed out to me. So I would appreciate constructive input if for no other reason than my own benefit.]

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

March For Life (& Unity!)

[Please continue to pray for Christian Unity, as we draw toward the latter part of our Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.]

Today's March for Life, conducted on the occasion of the 35th Anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court handing down Roe v. Wade, was a joyfully sad occasion. The weather was cold, but the spirit was definitely warm. I sensed an optimism, that victory is plausible.

This is what it takes to get Charismatics and Catholics, Evangelicals and Episcopals to march side-by-side and act as Children of the Messiah (exception: one particularly irate brother who felt he had been cut in line by two other brethren in the subway). Our unity was impressive, and for that I felt joyful. However, while there was fraternal love between the Christian sects, the non-Catholic side of the house was woefully underrepresented. My limited impression, based on hats, shirts, and signs, is that 70-80% of those present were Roman Catholic (and plenty of the remainder were Eastern Orthodox).

I have two theories on why we lack a proportionate number of "Evangelicals" in the Pro-Life movement. 1) Apathy. I think some trace of moral relativism lingers to create an attitude of "well, fetus a life?, the Bible's not that clear, so maybe its a matter of conscience?" Many Evangelicals (I theorize) feel just enough of this attitude to overcome any momentum they might otherwise have to participate in a pro-Life activity. Remedy: PROGRAMS! Our churches are program-based by nature, so why not have "Pro-Life Activities Coordinators"? Education could shore up moral truth, and coordination of trips and events could create or strengthen momentum to act! [Theory 1.5 is fear of seemingly "political" topics, and the proper role of morality in the public square, being discussed in the church house. I have no remedy for this.]

2) Catholic Heebie-jeebies. Faithful "Evangelicals" are understandably pretty freaked out or at least made uncomfortable by the overwhelming presence of Catholics (and their concomitant Catholicism) at Pro-Life events. After all, when the line of people outside an abortion clinic are praying "Hail, Mary", what's the Evangelical supposed to do with himself? And what to do with singing "Ave Maria" and processing a statue of the Madonna at marches? I think most Protestants would prefer to do something that's more of their own kind. Pro-Life activities feel Catholic. Remedy: PROGRAMS (see above) to lessen the overwhelming disparity; and ask Catholics to consider that at these events, standing on common ground and having a wider base of Christian voters present may be worth the sacrifice of practicing some Catholic particulars.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mediatrix Of All Graces?

[Please continue to pray for Church Unity! This post is meant in sincerity, and I do not mean to go bashing or to get bashed. If you are able to clear up my misunderstandings in a spirit of grace, please do so! It is difficult differences like these that inhibit Unity. Therefore, I believe we are duty-bound to attempt to sort them out.]

I've just read Dave Armstrong's section on Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces, in his "A Biblical Defense of Catholicism." I was not sold on the idea, and am a little confused to boot. Is he defending defined Catholic dogma, or a mere (albeit popular) proposition that exists within Catholicism? It is not clear from the book.

Some Catholic writers claim it is already infallible teaching (e.g., Fr. Most's writing available on EWTN's website). This claim says that the battle is o'er, and those in opposition should just lay down their arms. But since a popular movement has been petitioning the Vatican to define the teaching as dogma, the claim that it is already infallible strikes me as a tad presumptuous.

St. Louis said, "Since all the grace which you receive comes from Our Lady, your salvation therefore ultimately depends on Her, and therefore you shall not enter Heaven without a devotion to Her, either developed in this life, or in the next life in Purgatory, when your dependence on her as mediatrix of all grace will have become absolutely clear." [HT: Laudem Gloriae]

However, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, has this to say about mediation: "The office of mediator belongs fully only to Jesus, the Man - God, Who alone could reconcile us with God by offering Him, on behalf of men, the infinite sacrifice of the Cross, which is perpetuated in Holy Mass. He alone, as Head of mankind, could merit for us in justice the grace of salvation and apply it to those who do not reject His saving action. It is as man that He is mediator, but as a Man in Whom humanity is united hypostatically to the Word and endowed with the fullness of grace, the grace of Headship, which overflows on men. As St. Paul puts it: 'For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus: Who gave Himself for a redemption for all, a testimony in due times" (I Tim. 2:5-6). [Hat Tip: PowerBlog!]. [Aside: I recently learned that Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange taught Pope JPII when he was still just a lowly seminarian.]

So I wonder, is the battle o'er? Speaking individualistically, this teaching seems to come up short in two prominent ways. 1) The rational theological basis for this would-be dogma seems nearly absent; support for this teaching seems to flow from Marian apparitions and Mystic teachers of the Catholic Church who prophesied that this teaching would become dogma. As the Catholic Church teaches that public revelation ceased long ago, and the evidence of Mary's role as Mediatrix of All Graces does not appear in the early deposit of faith, I would expect to see a strong rationale for its formulation (as, e.g., is given with the teaching of the Immaculate Conception, which in addition enjoys early Patristic support). Some defenses I've read stress that God could see fit to have His graces mediated in this way. Granted. But what tells us that He does (for surely, Reason or Revelation would need to tell us that He does this before it could be an infallible dogma)? 2) The claim that Mary's role is not only to pray for us, but to be a channel of all graces (Fr. Most calls her the "neck" through which all power of the "head" must pass) makes false the primary Catholic defense of Marian (and all Saintly) intercession -- that is, that they merely pray for us as those who are already righteous and before God. Which is it, that the saints pray for us, or that they (also) go about actively dolling out grace? The latter would be different from how Catholics have defended Prayers to the Saints to me.

I am inclined to add as a third reason, that this teaching places at least great strain on the language of 1 Tim 2:5-6, quoted by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange above.

Could it be that the authority supporting this teaching, if it is not yet infallible, is similar to the Predestination teachings within Roman Catholicism? There, while permissible boundaries are defined, there is open debate between a strong Free Will camp (the majority view) and a strong Predestination camp (the minority view). Is there a minority camp that does not see evidence of a "Mediatrix of All Graces" teaching in either Revelation or Reason?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

March For Life 2008

Please consider missing a day of work or school and bearing the expense and difficulty of travelling to Washington, D.C. this coming Tuesday, January 22nd, to participate in the March for Life 2008.

God calls us to love one another, and love seems to so often (if not always) involve sacrifice. Please consider sacrificing for the sake of the future mothers and unborn children that may suffer from unjust laws.

Even more, please consider sacrificing out of love for the hearts and souls of those in political power who support abortion as a human right. Weighty indeed must be this matter upon their souls. Perhaps one of them will be swayed this year by the number of people who come to express their concern for unborn life!

Christ told us, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mat. 5:43-58)"

Yours truly would be happy to meet up with any brothers or sisters for the walk, to share in Christian fellowship. I would also be happy to accommodate travels of anyone thinking of participating (I live near BWI airport, and will give rides as I am able). Let me know!

While I'm at it, please remember to pray today for Christian Unity, as this is the second day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. What better way to express unity than to join together as God's people in opposition to a rule of law that permits such a grave immorality?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity

Please pray for Christian unity each day this week (18-25 January), the centenary observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The National Council of Churches suggests so. The Vatican suggests so.

No really, please pray! Christians believe that prayer is truly efficacious. It is not just a reminder or mental check for ourselves, so that we can feel humble and consider obedience (cf. Isa. 58:5). We seek to impel God to act quickly for good.

"So I[, Daniel] turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong... Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name. (Dan. 9:3ff.)"

"[Said Jesus,] Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. (Mat. 6:10)"

"[Said Jesus,] I pray... also for those who will believe in me through [my Disciples'] word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. (John 17:20-21)"

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Inerrancy And Unanimity

My latest habit, which hopefully I can shake soon, has been to check in on the often-confusing comment-free exchanges at the Boar's Head Tavern.

This interseting little post asked, "Inerrancy is supposed to help us achieve unanimity in doctrinal matters, yes? Has it?" And it left off impliedly answering in the negative.

One contrary reply said, "Agreeing in the most general terms that the Bible will be our authority does not mean we will agree about conclusions. But it does mean that I can have a discussion using the same source." I think that's selling Reformational view of the Bible short. The belief in the authority of an inerrant Bible is meant to support the proposition that the Bible is both necessary and sufficient to acquire a "saving faith". It is more than a kind of lowest common denominator of theological discussion.

I think, then, that the former question about the Bible and unanimity is a valid one -- if it is necessary to tell us and it does sufficiently tell us without error what we need to be saved, what are we to make of mutually exclusive formulations on how to be saved?

Church Discipline

[I made a similar entry at CHNI, and received tremendous response. I recommend that website for anyone interested in learning more about Catholicism.]

My Presbyterian denomination, the PCA, has good rules on church discipline, contained in the Book of Church Order (BCO). The denomination appears to have great leeway in shepherding the flock, which is what a church ought to have. But I don't think they use nearly as much "rope" as they're given.

A PCA member can be brought under church discipline for committing an "offense". An offense is "anything in the doctrines or practice of a Church member professing faith in Christ which is contrary to the Word of God. (BCO, 29-1)" And, nothing "ought to be considered by any court as an offense... which cannot be proved to be such from Scripture." Heresy is included as an offense, so the definition is not limited to outward sinful conduct (29-3).

So I wonder, at what point is one who adopts the beliefs of other denominations susceptible to charges of committing an "offense"? I've known plenty of PCA parents who do not baptize their infants. The PCA's confessional standards, which are the "standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture" (29-1), state that believing parents shall baptize their children (WCOF, Ch. XXVIII, sec. 4). But these baptistic parents aren't charged with an "offense". The standard for "heresy" must be pretty high then. It's not clear to me that one believing in "baptismal regeneration" is that much different from the baptistic parent, but I suspect that one would be closer to toeing the "heresy" line.

If charges aren't brought for heresy until a PCA'er announces he intends to join the Orthodox or Catholic Church, would the denomination send a "letter of transfer" to his receiving Church?

BCO, 38-3(b) states, "When a member... shall attempt to withdraw from the communion of this branch of the visible Church by affiliating with a body judged [by his session] as failing to maintain the Word and Sacraments in their fundamental integrity (BCO 2-2), that member or minister shall be warned of his danger, and if he persists, his name shall be erased from the roll... (emphasis added)".

I doubt that each session would interpret "fundamental integrity" the same way. I imagine a member could transfer to an evangelical Baptist church upon moving, and still receive a letter of transfer (so still recognized as part of the Church Visible). But the baptists don't practice sacraments, but rather ordinances. I imagine too that a member could transfer to mainline Presbyterianism, even though many in that organization doubt the infallibility of Scripture, the Virginal Incarnation, etc. If these thoughts are right, then "fundamental integrity" is meant in a broad sense, more one of outward appearances.

But what of the Catholics? They teach the Word, and practice Sacraments in a way that is fundamental at least in an historical sense. So in one sense it would seem better to transfer to Catholicism than to an Evangelical Baptist or Mainline Presbyterian denomination. There's a rub though, that makes me doubt such a transfer would be allowed. Calvin, who formulated the Word-Sacrament litmus test of a True Church, believed that one who left the True Church was apostate (see Sect. III, here, citing Calvin's Institutes, Book IV, Ch. 1, Secs. 5 and 10). So under this BCO term of art, either Calvin meant to anathematize his Genevan movement, or the Catholic Church does not "maintain the Word and Sacraments in their fundamental integrity."

It is a difficult thing, to accept that branches of the True Church are fractured, and yet to have to decide which ones remain fundamentally integral.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Law Defining Family

The best advice I received from a lawyer when I was considering whether to attend law school was, "don't do it!" Another wise lawyer, when I was later considering whether to enroll in a Family Law course, gave the same advice. But since I listened to neither, I found myself in my first Family Law class this morning. What a treat to study the "law" of "family" at a major secular institution from a Professor whom one student described in an old evaluation as "androgynous."

The first order of business, and I would guess this is the same in every Family Law course taught in the country, is to define what we mean by the word "family". This definition colors how we are prepared to justify or seek changes to laws about marriage, divorce, adoption, child rearing, etc.

The professor instructed the class to write three conclusions to this fragment: "A person or a group of people constitute a family when…" Good thing we didn't squeeze out a single person as "family" from our options for definitions., to their credit, has a virtually identical definition of family today as their Random House progenitor had in my trusty 1962 edition (i.e., "parents and their children", and so on). On the other hand, it seems that the elite have attended to cleaning up American Heritage: "Two or more people who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another, and reside usually in the same dwelling place." Under this definition, I would guess that Frat boys can adopt a baby Joe Sigma Tau... The old Black's Law Dictionary (1979) says the term "most commonly refers to group of persons consisting of parents and children." Today's Black's (8th ed. 2004) adds "A group of persons who live together and have a shared commitment to a domestic relationship." The circularity of this definition is evidenced by looking up domestic: "Of or relating to the family or the household".

So that's where the authorities stand. How did I thrice complete the above fragment?

A person or a group of people constitute a family when…” 1)...they vow before God to enter into a holy unity. 2) ...they are parents or children following and according to the sexual act’s implicit vow of unity. 3) I can't think of a third.

Then we were told to share our answers with the classmate (i.e., feminist) sitting next to us (Gasp!). Fortunately, my neighbor walked in late, so did not participate in this exercise. We ended by calling out what we thought were good answers for the board. The professor categorized everything under one of three headings (none of which would contain my first answer):

Biologically related, e.g., mother-daughter

State Recognition:
They are married
Parent-child adoption

Reliance on others for daily needs
Share holidays
Agreement, conscious, and consensual
Non-marital cohabitants
Authority/power structure

..."when they have an agreement, conscious and consensual" was the first answer given.

My point: a society of broken families is a broken society. Ours is losing its ability to even comprehend the order of Family instituted by our Creator. Not that I have it right, but these answers are almost all entirely wrong. Really though, how concerned should we be with how our State defines Family?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Shepherds Prophesied

Jeremiah contains one prophesy about which I wonder whether it applies to our time under the New Covenant. Jeremiah 23 (NIV) says, "1 "Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD. 2 Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: "Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done," declares the LORD. 3 "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the LORD. (emphasis added)"

I know some believe that this prophesy refers to a time other than now, under the New Covenant and before the end times. My NIV Study Note, in a similar passage in the following chapter, says that the prophecy of the return from the dispersion occurred in the 6th century B.C. A more charismatic view holds that this passage refers to the "end times", so we are not there yet. But if this is a promise that came to fruition at the time of Christ and His apostles, maybe it's prescient for my discernment process. To wit, if it refers to the New Covenant, then we should be under shepherds emplaced by God. If not, and sola Scriptura is true, then perhaps the prophesy would have been more accurate to state something like, 'I will place my infallible Written Word over them...'

The Catholic NAB footnote says of this pericope, "With the false rulers who have governed his people the Lord contrasts himself, the good shepherd, who will in the times of restoration appoint worthy rulers. (emphasis added)" So not surprisingly, the American Catholic Bishops impliedly support a reading that holds themselves to be the fulfillment of this prophesy.

Matthew Henry's Commentary notes here, "If some have abused a sacred office, that is no good reason why it should be abolished. [!Wow! Would he have applied this logic to Bishops' offices? To the Pope's office?] "They destroyed the sheep, but I will set shepherds over them who shall make it their business to feed them." Formerly they were continually exposed and disturbed with some alarm or other; but now they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed; they shall be in no danger from without, in no fright from within. ...Though the times may have been long bad with the church, it does not follow that they will be ever so. Such pastors as Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, though they lived not in the pomp that Jehoiakim and Jeconiah did, nor made such a figure, were as great blessings to the people as the others were plagues to them. The church's peace is not bound up in the pomp of her rulers." This language indicates Henry's view that the Old Covenant Jews were "church" with "pastors". Perhaps he would not see the old wineskins as so different from the new, but if he clearly thinks this prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled after Christ established his Apostles, he does not show his hand.

I'm inclined to think this passage does refer to the New Covenant, and am therefore inclined to think that we were promised by God in ancient times to have Shepherds (Bishops, overseers, elders?) appointed for our care. I'd be happy to receive correction, but here's why I think so:

"5 "The days are coming," declares the LORD,
"when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
6 In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness.
(emphasis added)"

This is the continuing passage from chapter 23. Commentators seem to agree universally that this is messianic prophecy. Contextually, the days of return from dispersion referred to in this prophecy seem to be be the same as the days of the appearance the LORD Our Righteousness. So while the Jews may have returned in the 6th century B.C. before again being dispersed, it seems as if this prophecy speaks of a true union of Church under the Messiah.

Also, the following chapter, Jeremiah 24, describes God's people as good figs who will have hearts for Him, and whom He will never tear down.

"Then the LORD asked me, "What do you see, Jeremiah?" / "Figs," I answered. "The good ones are very good, but the poor ones are so bad they cannot be eaten." 4 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 5 "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. 6 My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. 7 I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart. (emphasis added)"

This later passage especially persuades me that the prophecy was not fully fulfilled at the first return from dispersion amongst the Babylonians. It is here that my NIV Study Notes say tersely (of v.6), "bring them back. In 538 B.C." When Christ came, he did not seem to think that God's people had returned to Him all their heart. So again, the return of the 6th century B.C. does not seem to fulfill this promise.

Are those promised in Jeremiah 23:4 the Apostles and their successor Bishops?

"That They May Be One"

Is there a call to duty for us in God the Son's "high priestly prayer" to the Father, or is it just a prayer?

John 17
"Jesus Prays for His Disciples

6"I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. 13"I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Jesus Prays for All Believers

20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25"Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." (emphasis added)"

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Charity And Ecumenicity

Bryan Cross, of PrincipiumUnitatis, asks 12 questions to challenge Protestants, here. These questions relate to authority, which he believes to be the "fundamental, meta-level source of all the divisions between Christians" (I happen to agree). No Protestant has yet attempted to answer these questions on his blog, though several have answered on a Protestant blog (where comments are not allowed, frustratingly), the Board's Head Tavern.

I've been wrestling with questions of authority for some time, and it's been a painful and frustrating experience. I've written often on authority, for example here, where I asked two similar questions (and no fellow Protestants attempted to answer these questions either). I've had the opportunity on at least five occasions to privately ask three different solidly Reformed pastors to answer these questions. To the man, they were unable to try. This is quite the soft underbelly of Protestantism, and I am saddened to see Christians come apart at the seams at the mere suggestion that our (Protestant) basis for authority is deficient.

One such unhemmed believer says that none of these questions on authority matter. This is a shame, and a major concession all in one. This brother rhetorically asks whether anyone has been saved by canon formation, by interpretations of scripture, by decrees of councils, etc. He ends, "Calvinism taught us that we are all worms. Ever see a worm? Worms don’t have a head. You pull a worm apart, you get more worms. That’s my model for how the church works."

If canon is irrelevant because no one was saved by its determination, then Luther's desired exclusion of James, or the Codex Sinaiticus' inclusion of the Shepherd of Hermas would have be equally valid. Which texts to be included in the Bible can be irrelevant to salvation only if the Bible itself is irrelevant to salvation (a concession I refuse to make).

The model of the church being composed of severed, multiplying worms could not be more sad. Christ prayer to the Father in John 17:20-21 (which I believe was properly included in the canon, though I'm not sure what the basis of my belief is, since no one can tell me) for "those who will believe in me through [the Apostles'] word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me." No, the world will not believe that God the Father sent God the Son if we are severed worms lacking unity. Indeed, none would believe that the Son is "God", coequal to the Father, without the work of councils, and prayerful efforts at ecclesial consensus.

So let us please consider the Faith handed down to us carefully, and, with charity and openness, discuss those which divide use. We are called to unity, after all. Perhaps being open to comments of reply when we post our views would be a good starting point.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Assimilating Paganism

I've finally finished burrowing my way through Newman's Essay on doctrinal development. [I previously discussed portions of this work here (on Bible as authority), here (on continuity of doctrinal principles), and here (on Sects not maintaining the original 'type' of Christianity). This obviously has not been a cohesive review, but simply comments on things that struck me as I went along. I'll end the way I began.]

His "third note" of a true development (vs. a corruption) is that the church has an "assimilative power", an ability to absorb its antagonists (and not be dissolved by them) while maintaining its own identity. By way of example, he discusses the assimilative power of the church's principle of "sacramental grace." [Remember that "principles" to Newman are the fundamentals, which have been there from the beginning, and are permanent over time.]

Analyzing the difference between the ancient Christian condemnation of pagans' use of temples, altars and images, and the Christians' own use of these things, Newman looks to the Church Fathers. We find that the Church has assimilated certain pagan practices by making them good (or sacramentally grace-filled) through their application to its own true substance. The pagan substance was, of course, discarded as being sinful.

""Those," [St. Augustine] says, "who are acquainted with Old and New Testament do not blame in the pagan religion the erection of temples or institution of priesthoods, but that these are done to idols and devils ... True religion blames in their superstitions, not so much their sacrificing, for the ancient saints sacrificed to the True God, as their sacrificing to false gods."[ ] And St. Jerome asks Vigilantius, who made objections to lights and oil, "Because we once worshipped idols, is that a reason why we should not worship God, for fear of seeming to address him with an honour like that which was paid to idols and then was detestable, whereas this is paid to Martyrs and therefore to be received? (371)"

I don't mean to develop a habit of long quotations (a habit though that obviously reflects Newman's own habit), but I'm simply not of a mind to cut these quotes of the early Fathers down further...

Further, and specific to the use of images: "As to the passages you adduce," [St. John Damascene] says to his opponents, "they abominate not the worship paid to our Images, but that of the Greeks, who made them gods. It needs not therefore, because of the absurd use of the Greeks, to abolish our use which is so pious.[ ] Greeks dedicate images to devils, and call them gods; but we to True God Incarnate, and to God's servants and friends, who drive away the troops of devils." Again, "As the holy Fathers overthrew the temples and shrines of the devils, and raised in their places shrines in the names of Saints and we worship them, so also they overthrew the images of the devils, and in their stead raised images of Christ, and God's Mother, and the Saints. And under the Old Covenant, Israel neither raised temples in the name of men, nor was memory of man made a festival; for, as yet, man's nature was under a curse, and death was condemnation, and therefore was lamented, and a corpse was reckoned unclean and he who touched it; but now that the Godhead has been combined with our nature, as some life-giving and saving medicine, our nature has been glorified and is trans-elemented into incorruption. Wherefore the death of Saints is made a feast, and temples are raised to them, and Images are painted ... For the Image is a triumph, and a manifestation, and a monument in memory of the victory of those who have done nobly and excelled, and of the shame of the devils defeated and overthrown." (376-7)"

My own hopes for ecumenicity find encouragement in these words, as they remind me that intrafaith discourse must criticize and challenge each others principles, and not merely our outward practices. Outward practices, as I see it, are fair game only insofar as they reflect (or are co-extensive with) substance, that is, principles.

Church Visible, Church Invisible

Please consider taking the time to read Bryan Cross's excellent post (at PrincipiumUnitatis) on Church Visible, Church Invisible, and the meaning of Christ's promises to the "Church".

Bryan writes with careful logic, and is rarely challenged about his views. I'm not exactly sure why more bloggers don't take him to task on his writing. He reaches conclusions, clear ones at that, and through a clear process. If he's wrong, he should be susceptible to criticism.

Perhaps the calm, rational method of writing makes for a low-fireworks quotient on one's blog, so that people aren't very interested in commenting. If that's the explanation, then our collective intellectual-merits score should be pretty low.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sex And Sacrifice

Quick observation: On Disc 3 of Christopher West's 10-CD lecture series Naked Without Shame, discussing the Catholic Theology of the Body, a particular line caught my attention.

To my memory, it went thus: "Sexual sin attempts to separate true love from sacrifice."

I really dug this line, so I decided to post it here for your reflection. I certainly understand that child rearing involves sacrifice. And I've seen enough to know that pregnancy requires much sacrifice of my wife. God's love for us required his own sacrifice of Himself. If it holds true, it would make for some nice evidence against contraceptive barrier methods.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


The Catholic Encyclopedia states that scandal "must be evil in itself, or in appearance; this is the interpretation of the words of St. Thomas: minus rectum."

I know this term is commonly used in situations that are easy to understand (for one who understands the nature of sin): e.g., where some nuns flaunt heresy, or where a priest becomes corrupt. In these situations, the sinners scandalize the church, and may lead others into similar sin.

Other scandals have been of a much broader base, and much more painful to stamp out. In these situations, it seems that God uses all sorts to effect the principles of semper reformanda. People like Luther have done the church well (at least in some regards). Trent banned the sale of indulgences because of the grave risk of corruption. Even modern Tort Lawyers (of all people!) have helped end scandal by suing the church for its priests sexually molesting children. In this instance, while each particular abuse was scandalous, the systematic under-reactiveness to (apparently) rampant deviancy made it a meta-scandal.

Of Protestant stock, I (naturally) feel concern that Marian 'piety' is dangerously unchecked within Catholicism. This was especially apparent when I lived in an area of Southern California that had a large population of Catholic Mexican immigrants. The danger I perceive, and that I'd like to dispel within myself or be able to recognize along with some like-minded Catholics, is that such 'piety' often turns into superstition in practice (and arguably even idolatry) for some groups.

Here I see a helpful historical lesson from the sale of indulgences. Perhaps the Church is right about indulgences, and perhaps it's right about the propriety of Marian devotion. But if indulgences can be checked because of their tendency toward scandal, can Marian piety be similarly checked (to avoid superstition and even idolatry)? How ostracized would a faithful Catholic be for seeing a need for such a check?

I'm not trying to be shocking, and probably most will be sympathetic with where I'm coming from. The real $1,000,000 question is whether, stipulating (ex arguendo) that the Catholic Church's teachings are preserved from error by the Holy Spirit, and given that I still have much to learn about Mary's role in the order of salvation, is it possible that there is scandal in the Catholic Church for not checking Marian excesses?

Would any of my Catholic fellows feel able to admit this as a possibility?

Friday, January 4, 2008


The PCA Magazine By Faith Online has an article about a new classical chamber group at Atlanta's Church of the Redeemer (PCA). This hip young ensemble hopes to reclaim classical music for its generation. The church's Pastor, expressing his fondness for the program, said, "The love for art is built into all of us. With art we symbolize our reality. Art can teach, rebuke, inspire and confound. It speaks to us as it speaks of us."

This made me wonder, if music as art symbolizes our reality, if it teaches and inspires, why not visual art as well? If a beautiful tune can be used to give depth to our prayer (say, the Doxology), why can't a beautiful icon be used to give depth to a sermon?

Martin Luther famously noted, "next to the word of God, music deserves the highest praise" (Preface to Georg Rhau's Symphoniae Iucandae).

What sets the works of Rachmaninoff ahead of those of Rembrandt? "Return of the Prodigal Son" gives depth to my appreciation for the forgiveness I receive every day from Christ. It (like Music) expresses something in a way in which words and the intellect remain mute.

Music is a gift of God, I certainly would agree. Dr. Harold Best, a former Dean of the Wheaton Conservatory said, we sing in worship because we are commanded by God to do so ("Sing to the Lord a new song" - Isaiah 42:10). It is this commandment that empowers music, he warns, and not the reverse. "When we attempt to empower God's commands with something even as wonderful as music we have stepped over a forbidden line, for there is such a thing as musicolatry. (emphasis added)"

What I like about Dr. Best's position is that it is consistent with a practice of exclusion of artful images in worship. What I dislike about Dr. Best's position is that it starts from a negative presumption: 'use nothing but what is explicitly commanded.' But "Sing to the Lord a new song" is hardly a clear commandment about the use music in church services. Can we use it only in the processional and recessional? Can the sermon be sung, if the pastor is particularly talented, to enliven the preaching of the word? What styles are appropriate? The Apostle Paul tells us about appropriate attire, appropriate conduct in communion, and the appropriate use of 'tongues' in church, but does not address contemporary music. Therefore, the position that we only use music because we are commanded to is open-ended, leaving so much room for interpretation that there is no rule at all.

I think he's on to something though, about musicolatry. Christmas concerts are an easy indicator of the passion for the music overflowing the banks of the text it is meant to enhance. Such is a problem, and would also be a problem in iconography, where love of the image takes primacy over enhancement of the imaged.

We use music because it affects our emotions and feelings. Beautiful music humbles me before God. Contemporary music, with its primitive rhythm patterns, excites the body and makes one sway and move. We use it because it affects us in a way in which we want to be affected. Why not do the same with visual art?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

4th Cent. Church Sects

John Henry Newman's An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine is no easy read. So I was glad to be able to actually follow him last night in his discussion of the first note of doctrinal development (vs. a corruption) in the context of the 4th Century.

These "notes" form a canon by which Newman devises to measure the true church, and his first is that "one security against error and perversion... is the maintenance of the original type, which the idea presented to the world at its origin, amid and through all its apparent changes and vicissitudes from first to last. (207, emphasis added)"

In the particular context of the 4th Century, he notes the pervasiveness of various sects and their outward Christian appearances. His question, applicable today as ever, is "How was the man to guide his course who wished to join himself to the doctrine and fellowship of the Apostles [in those times]? (248)"

He then begins a historical tour de force to show sectarian pervasiveness: the Meletians had 1/3rd the total bishops in the whole Egyptian Patriarchate, later Donatists had 400 bishops compared to the 468 catholic ones, the Arians were in possession of Constantinople's 100 churches, and so on. These sects were variously learned, eloquent and talented (some possessed noteworthy skills of Biblical interpretation). They had "normal" looking church buildings, they had bishops, priests and deacons, celebrants and altars, and of course school.

Again Newman asks, "How was an individual inquirer to find, or a private Christian to keep the Truth, amid so many rival teachers? (251)" It was no easy decision, and he reminds us of some early Saints who flirted with other teachings or were converts to the catholic church from the various sects (most notably St. Augustine, who spent 9 years in Manicheanism). The answer: "The Church is everywhere, but it is one; sects are everywhere, but they are many, independent and discordant. Catholicity is the attribute of the Church, independency of sectaries. (Ibid.)"

And again, "The Church is a kingdom; a heresy is a family rather than a kingdom; and as a family continually divides and sends out branches, founding new houses, and propagating itself in colonies, each of them as independent as its original head, so was it with heresy. (emphasis added)" He supports the proposition that division is a distinguishing feature of sects by listing the (obscure) descendants of early heresies (see 252). For example, Montanists evolved into Tascodrugites, Pepuzians, Artotyrites, and Quartodecimans -- I really watch out for those Pepuzians! This continuing fracture of heresy came from its nature: "its own master, free to change, self-sufficient; and, having thrown off the yoke of the Church, it was little likely to submit to any usurped and spurious authority. (253)"

Their sole uniting aspect was their hatred of the Church. Here are some (now) entertaining libelous quotes he finds from the works of heretics about the Church: "the carnal", "the apostates", "the worldly", the man-worshippers", "the flesh-lovers", "the slimy", "servants of Antichrist", "synagogue of Satan" and "the devil's harlot." St. Peter's chair was called "the seat of pestilence."

I tell you, some of those sound as if they were penned in the early 16th century.