Catholic Idolatry

Mark Horne has a helpful post on why he is not a Roman Catholic. An excerpt:

  1. Idolatry is a huge sin and praying through icons (whether 3d or 2d) is idolatry.  I cannot possibly engage in such a practice, allow anyone in my guardianship to do so, or excuse such a thing, without falling into rank unbelief.
  2. Necromancy is almost as huge a sin and praying to the departed saints is necromancy.  See #1 above.  People raised thinking bigamy is Christian may be true Christians, but people who know better are living in sin and without hope of eternal life unless they repent of such behavior.
  3. The way some Roman Catholic constituencies provide ministry opportunities for defectors from Protestantism is, of course, tempting–but it can hardly count as anything more than thirty pieces of silver if #1 and #2 hold.  If one must be marginalized and impoverished in the Protestant world due to sectarian sins, well, God has called many Christians and their families to far worse martyrdoms.
  4. Claiming unity can be achieved by everyone else joining one’s own denomination is exactly the sect spirit that is so loathsome in many Protestant groups, and it gains no more attractiveness in Rome.

While Mark’s honesty will offend many who justify idolatry by appealing to John of Damascus, we have an opposite example in the Internet Monk’s interview with Bryan Cross, someone who has made that plunge into idolatry. I don’t know why these issues are never raised in these ecumenical interviews. Many Protestants still seem to assume that justification is the core issue between us and Rome, while in fact idolatry is and always has been one of the central concerns of the Reformation, if one that is often ignored today.

Wright on Rome

Over at Christianity Today there is an article on Protestants who defect to Rome. Bishop N.T. Wright is quoted in the article, but his full quote is not provided. Here is his full quote:

a. I’m on sabbatical writing Volume IV of my big series, on Paul; so I don’t have time for more than a quick response.

b. ‘Sacramental, transformational, communal, eschatological’? If you gave me that list and said ‘Where in the Christian world would you find that?’ I could easily and truthfully answer: (i) in the best of the Reformed tradition — spend a couple of days at Calvin College, or read Jamie  Smith’s new book, and you’ll see; (ii) in much of the best of the  charismatic movement, once it’s shed its low-church prejudices and discovered how much God loves bodies; (iii) in the best of… dare I say it… Anglicanism… ; (iv) in some bits (not all) of the Emerging Church movement . . .

c. Trent said both much more and much less than this. Sacramental, yes, but in a muddled way with an unhelpful ontology; transformational, yes, but far too dependent on unbiblical techniques and practices; communal, yes, but don’t let the laity (or the women) get any fancy ideas about God working new things through them; and eschatological?? Eschatology in the biblical sense didn’t loom large, and indeed that was a key element in the Reformers’ protest: the once-for-allness of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as producing, not a new system for doing the same stuff over and over, but a new world. Trent, and much subsequent RC theology, has had a habit of never spring-cleaning, so you just live in a house with more and more clutter building up, lots of right answers to wrong questions (e.g. transubstantiation) which then get in the way when you want to get  something actually done. In particular, Trent gave the wrong answer,  at a deep level, to the nature/grace question, which is what’s at the  root of the Marian dogmas and devotions which, despite contrary  claims, are in my view neither sacramental, transformational,  communal nor eschatological. Nor biblical. The best RCs I know (some  of whom would strongly disagree with the last point, some would  strongly agree) are great conversation partners mainly because they  have found ways of pushing the accumulated clutter quietly to one  side and creating space for real life. But it’s against the grain of the Tridentine system, in my view. They aren’t allowed to say that but clearly many of them think it. Joining in is just bringing more of your own clutter to an already confused and overcrowded room…

d. I am sorry to think that there are people out there whose Protestantism has been so barren that they never found out about sacraments, transformation, community or eschatology. Clearly this person needed  a change. But to jump to Rome for that reason is very odd. It reminds  me of the fine old German NT scholar Heinrich Schlier, who found that the only way to be a Protestant was to be a Bultmannian, so, because he couldn’t take  Bultmann, became a Roman Catholic; that was the only other option in  his culture. Good luck to him; happily, most of us have plenty of  other options. To say ‘wow, I want that stuff, I’d better go to Rome’ is like someone suddenly discovering (as I’m told Americans occasionally do — sorry, cheap shot) that there are other countries in the world and so getting the first big boat he finds in New York to take him there . . . when there were plenty of planes lined up and waiting at JFK. Rome is a big, splendid, dusty old ocean liner, with lots of grand cabins, and, at present, quite a fine captain and some excellent officers — but also quite a few rooms in need of repair.  Yes, it may take you places, but it’s slow and you might get seasick  from time to time. And the navigators have been told that they must never acknowledge when they’ve been going in the wrong direction . . .

e. I spent three very happy weeks as the Anglican observer at the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops last October. They were talking about the Bible: about how for so long they have more or less banned the laity from reading or studying it, and how now they want to change all that, to insist that every Catholic man, woman, child, cat and dog should have the Bible in their own mother tongue and be taught to read it, study it, pray with it, individually and together. Hallelujah! Who knows what might happen. Question: why did nobody say this in 1525? If they had, we’d have been saved a lot of bother.
Let’s engage cheerfully in as much discussion with our Roman friends as we can. They are among my best ecumenical conversation partners, and  some of them are among my dear friends. But let’s not imagine that a renewed biblical theology will mean we find ourselves saying ‘you guys were right after all’ just at the point where, not explicitly but actually, they are saying that to us . . .

Aside from what may be an implicit endorsement of women’s ordination in there, that’s pretty good stuff! I particularly like his rejection of Mariolatry in Rome. Perhaps Rowan Williams should listen to Bishop Wright more.

Chrysostom on Scripture

St. Chrysostom says those who don’t use the Scriptures to establish doctrine are thieves:

Observe the marks of a robber; first, that he doth not enter openly; secondly, not according to the Scriptures, for this is the, “not by the door.” … And with good cause He calleth the Scriptures “a door,” for they bring us to God, and open to us the knowledge of God, they make the sheep, they guard them, and suffer not the wolves to come in after them. For Scripture, like some sure door, barreth the passage against the heretics, placing us in a state of safety as to all that we desire, and not allowing us to wander; and if we undo it not, we shall not easily be conquered by our foes. By it we can know all, both those who are, and those who are not, shepherds. But what is “into the fold”? It refers to the sheep, and the care of them. For he that useth not the Scriptures, but “climbeth up some other way,” that is, who cutteth out for himself another and an unusual way, “the same is a thief.”

Seest thou from this too that Christ agreeth with the Father, in that He bringeth forward the Scriptures? On which account also He said to the Jews, “Search the Scriptures” and brought forward Moses, and called him and all the Prophets witnesses, for “all,” saith He, “who hear the Prophets shall come to Me”; and, “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me.” But here He hath put the same thing metaphorically. And by saying, “climbeth up some other way,” He alluded to the Scribes, because they taught for commandments the doctrines of men, and transgressed the Law ( Matt. xv. 9 ); with which He reproached them, and said, “None of you doeth the Law.”

–  Homily LIX., John ix. 34–36

The Loss of Assurance

McLaughlin describes a transition from the believer’s assurance of salvation in the early days of the Church to fearing God’s wrath in the medieval period.

“The departed faithful were always represented in the early medieval liturgy as the servants of God, as his devoted followers and the subjects of his tremendous power. They were very often represented as sinners, threatened with eternal damnation unless God forgave their faults. This had not been the case during the early Christian era. Early Christian apologetic writings and prayers had sometimes depicted humanity as sinful and lost without God’s mercy. However, in the first few centuries, while Christians remained a minority group within Roman society, the emphasis had been on redemption offered through faith in Christ and baptism. Those who remained faithful to the redeemer despite the threat of persecution, it had been argued, could anticipate an assured reward in heaven. Such assurance began to fade, however, in late antiquity, with the end of the persecutions and the growth in conversions.   Gradually the focus shifted from the sinful unbeliever cleansed through baptism, to the sinful Christian, who must repent or forfeit the redemption Christ has offered.
In the early middle ages, it was no longer assumed that those who died in the faith deserved to be welcomed into heaven. Only if their faults were forgiven or purged away could they hope to enter the company of the elect. Thus, early medieval funerary prayers freely acknowledged the sins of the dead, even as they asked for those faults to be remitted:”

Do not enter into judgment with your servant N., Lord, for no one is justified before you, unless through you remission of all sins is granted. Therefore, we ask that your judicial sentence not bear hard on one whom the true supplication of Christian faith commends to you. Rather, with the help of your grace, let one who was marked in life with the sign of the Trinity deserve to evade avenging judgment.

McLaughlin says that the hope of the believer shifted from an assured salvation to group salvation – being united to the entire church as a means of right standing more or less. Here are a couple of prayers that exemplify this trend:

Grant this mercy, we pray, Lord, to your departed servant N., that the who upheld your will in his mind not receive in suffering the recompense of his deeds. Just as the true faith bound him here to the company of the faithful, so let your pity join him there with the angelic choirs.

God-who made your servant N. flourish with pontifical dignity among the apostolic priests-we ask that you join him to their perpetual fellowship.

You can see that the assurance of the believer had fled away in this schema of salvation. It seems to me that the modern Catholic Church deals with these fears via a soft universalism. Pretty much everybody will “get in” because God is Love. This is the flip side of the medieval error.

Prayer for the Dead

Megan McLaughlin traces the development of prayer for the dead in stages as follows (all the quotes are from her book):

1. Christians replace pagan funeral rites with the Eucharist. “…the central rite of the church – the celebration of the eucharist – was also associated with the funerals of Christians from at least the second century on. What part it played in those funerals is less clear…the practice of offering the eucharist for the dead after they were laid to rest is well attested. It seems to be related to pre-Christian customs, common throughout the Mediterranean region, which called for sacrifices at the tomb of a dead person on set days after the burial. The Christian communities substituted eucharistic sacrifices for these traditional ones at an early date.”burial-of-st-lucy-caravaggio
2. The main functions of the liturgy were clericalized and the laity retreated from the liturgy after Constantine. “…the laity began to lose their active role in the services of the ecclesia from the fourth century on. They retained some liturgical functions, but as time passed their presence was no longer necessary for the performance of the liturgy. Gradually, then, liturgical prayer became an activity that the clerical orders performed on behalf of the Christian community, rather than in concert with the order of the laity.” Continue reading “Prayer for the Dead”

On Purgatory

In her book Consorting with Saints, Megan McLaughlin discusses the development of purgatory in relation to prayers for the dead. She writes:

Historians have traditionally sought the meaning of prayer for the dead in the medieval West within the theological tradition, as formulated in the later middle ages and debated during the Reformation. In other words, prayer for the dead has been associated primarily with the doctrine of purgation after death.Souls Released from Purgatory

She has a footnote at this point which is also worth quoting:

This is true of the most important recent treatment of the ideas associated with prayer for the dead in the early middle ages, Arnold Angenendt’s “Theologie und Liturgie,” in Schmid and Wollasch, Memoria, pp. 79-199. The title of this essay is somewhat misleading, since in fact Angenendt is concerned with the ways in which the commemoration of the dead was understood during the period of theological decline between the death of Gregory the Great in the seventh century and the revival of theology in the twelfth.  Continue reading “On Purgatory”

Augustine: Respect only the Scripture

St. Augustine writes to St. Jerome:

For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the Ms. is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine.

St. Jerome on Apocryphal Books

“All times by everyone”…?

St. Jerome writes:

As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it read these two volumes for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church.

Who is in line with this statement today? Not Rome or the East, but Protestant churches.

Romanism and Orthodoxy

Steven Wedgeworth’s lectures on the subject are now available here. The subjects are:

“Why I’m Not A Roman Catholic”
“Lost in the Shamayim: A Psychology of Conversion”
“The Eternal City and the Seven Councils: Just Who is the Church?”
“What’s a Reformed Catholic to Do?: Towards an Equilibrium of Christendom”
“Why I’m Not A Roman Catholic”
“Lost in the Shamayim: A Psychology of Conversion”
“The Eternal City and the Seven Councils: Just Who is the Church?”
“What’s a Reformed Catholic to Do?: Towards an Equilibrium of Christendom”

Augustine’s On Christian Teaching

I finished reading St. Augustine’s “On Christian Teaching.” Like all the books of Augustine that I’ve read, it has flashes of brilliance and times where you can really feel his personality and picture him as a person talking to you. But it also has stretches that bore me to tears and probably demand a better grasp of life in Rome than I have.

His discussions of rhetoric at the end of the book were mystifying and dull to me.  The discussion of exegesis were far more interesting and shed light on how he approached the Bible. There are several sections that I love and which make me think that he is my favorite writer. Here he discusses the final day:

And as he is expected to come from heaven as judge of the living and the dead, he instills great fear into the uncommitted, so that they may develop a serious commitment and yearn for him in lives of goodness rather than fear him in lives of wickedness. For what words can express, and what thoughts can conceive, the reward which he is going to give at the end?