Showing posts with label Scripture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scripture. Show all posts

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Does the Church still heal the sick and raise the dead?

Perhaps you've heard an atheist or skeptical challenge to the effect of, "If the Church really was divine, why doesn't it heal the sick and raise the dead, etc., like it says in the Bible:
And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:17-18)
The response to this is twofold.

LITERAL
First, this prophecy was fulfilled in the immediate early Church following the Ascension. Most of the promises are recorded to have occurred in the book of Acts. As well, there have been other records of such miracles occurring in the subsequent history of the Church.
  • The matter of exorcism is attested, for example, in Acts 16:18. In Church history, the ministry of casting out demons in exorcism is attested by a number of other subjects and witnesses.  This is the case even today with lay people and clergy who work in close conjunction with medical professionals in order to rule out medical conditions. See the footnotes for references.
  • Regarding the gift of tongues, the Scripture attests to the phenomenon in the book of Acts, which followed Christ's promise. Some early Christian texts repeat the claim (e.g. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.6.1). It is sometimes attested in modern times that this gift, perhaps, is now rare or non-existent (e.g. Fr. Edward O'Connor, The Catholic pentecostal movement, 1971). Read further in the next section regarding a concentration of miracles in the early Church.
  • The matter of handling serpents or poison, again, is attested in Acts. Paul is bitten, yet unaffected, by poisonous snakes (Acts 28:3-5). In Church history, one of the miracles attributed to St. Edith Stein (aka St. Benedicta of the Cross) is the recovery of Benedicta McCarthy who in 1987 ingested "19 times the lethal dose of acetaminophen" and recovered instantly.
  • Healing the sick is attested in Acts 3:1-10, Acts 14:8-10, et al. Peter is recorded to have raised the dead in Acts 9:32-42. Of course, there have been numerous healing miracles attributed in every age of the Church, such as the aforementioned Edith Stein miracle, and even more recent miracles, such as attributed to Bl. Fulton Sheen.
St. Peter Raises Tabitha, Fabrizio Santafede, 1611, acquired from Wikimedia Commons

For the purpose of interacting with a skeptic, it is enough to note that the Biblical text records fulfillment of Christ's prophecy. Whether the skeptic believes the miracles is a different matter. The text of Acts accounts for the prophecy in Mark.

SPIRITUAL
Secondly, and more importantly, the Scriptural promise must be understood spiritually. After all, Scripture likewise alerts us, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28)

Preservation of the soul, in the order of Christianity, is more important than preserving the body. That, of course, does not suggest we are to neglect the body, because the body is also the sacred temple of the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).

But, Scripture often uses the figure of healing the body as the figure of man healed of sin. The opening of the Mark 16 prophecies fits with this healing language, which is indicative of healing sin.

Consider another occasion on which Christ juxtaposed the healing of a body in order to make a point about spiritual healing. After healing the paralytic whom was lowered through the ceiling, Christ said,
But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins." He then said to the paralytic, "Rise, take up your bed and go home." (Matt. 9:6)
Christ reveals the purpose of performing the visible healing—that the onlooker would understand that healing of sin is real, even though he cannot see it. Christ performed a visible healing in order to give cause for his audience to believe the invisible healing. They saw the paralyzed man healed. They had reason to believe the invisible, but real, wounds of sin were likewise healed by the power of Christ.

Luke quotes Christ analogizing sin and sickness. When asked why he would engage sinners, Christ replied, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." (Luke 5:31)

The Catechism echoes this sentiment in multiple places. For example:

  • [W]e are dead or at least wounded through sin... (CCC#734)
  • Thus the sinner is healed and re-established in ecclesial communion. (CCC#1448)
  • But [Christ] did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. (CCC#1505)

Return now to the Mark 16 prophecies and the spiritual meaning becomes clear. This spiritual understanding is explained by Pope St. Gregory I (d.604):
Are we then without faith because we cannot do these signs? Nay, but these things were necessary in the beginning of the Church, for the faith of believers was to be nourished by miracles, that it might increase. Thus we also, when we plant groves, strong in the earth; but when once they have firmly fixed their roots, we leave off irrigating them. These signs and miracles have other things which we ought to consider more minutely. For Holy Church does every day in spirit what then the Apostles did in body; for when her Priests by the grace of exorcism lay their hands on believers, and forbid the evil spirits to dwell in their minds, what do they, but cast out devils? And the faithful who have left earthly words, and whose tongues sound forth the Holy Mysteries, speak a new language; they who by their good warnings take away evil from the hearts of others, take up serpents; and when they are hearing words of pestilent persuasion, without being at all drawn aside to evil doing, they drink a deadly thing, but it will never hurt them; whenever they see their neighbours growing weak in good works, and by their good example strengthen their life, they lay their hands on the sick, that they may recover. And all these miracles are greater in proportion as they are spiritual, and by them souls and not bodies are raised. (Pope St. Gregory I, commentary on Mark 16, quoted in St. Thomas Aquinas's Catena Aurea)
It is worth emphasizing that St. Gregory also expounds on why the volume of miracles are more prevalent in the early Church—because they were useful in giving the Church root. From there, the Church stood with greater strength, having a firm foundation and the assurance of a divine pedigree. The Catechism #156 refers to miracles as one of the means by which faith is nourished (cf. Is faith belief without evidence?). Although miracles have occurred in every age in the Church, it is sensible to expect greater "proofs" would be given at the beginning of a new era in the divine economy of salvation. This is somewhat analogous to an infant requiring much sleep until he grows in strength and depends less on it.

St. Gregory's spiritual interpretation of the Mark 16 passage is echoed by others, including Fr. Cornelius Lapide (d.1637), the Flemish exegete, by quoting St. Bernard (d.1153):
Mystically: S. Bernard (Serm. de Ascens.) says, “The first work of faith which worketh by love is compunction of heart, by which, without doubt, devils are cast out when sins are rooted out of the heart. After that they who believe in Christ speak with new tongues when old things depart but of their mouth, and for the time to come they speak not with the old tongue of our first parents, who declined unto words of wickedness in making excuses for their sins. But when by compunction of the heart, and confession of the mouth, the former sins have been blotted out, in order that men may not backslide, and their latter end be worse than the beginning, it is needful that they take away serpents, that is, extinguish poisonous suggestions, &c. If they shall drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them. This is, when they feel the stings of concupiscence, they shall not consent. They shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. This is, they shall cover their evil affections by good works, and by this medicine they shall be healed.” (Lapide, Commentary on Mark 16)
So, when someone asks, for example, why doesn't the Church still heal the sick or raise the dead, the answer should be that it does, every day, in the sacrament of Confession. Whenever an earnest soul makes his sacramental confession, a miracle occurs. We have the visible installment of belief from the miracles of Christ and his apostles and saints through the ages. It is up to us to recognize the greater healings occurring in spirit.

Further resources:
Christ’s Power Shines Even in “Creepiest” Exorcism Case, Says Psychiatrist by Patti Armstrong, 2018.
The Rite by Matt Baglio, 2010.
Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms, Adam Blai interviewed by Patrick Coffin, 2019.
US exorcists: Demonic activity is on the rise by Patti Armstrong, 2011.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Is Judas in hell?

In Dante's epic poem, Judas is depicted in the deepest pit of hell as the devil devours him. It brings to mind a common question: Is Judas in hell? Ultimately, we do not know for certain.

But, we can deduce under what conditions Judas may have escaped damnation. Let's examine the words of the popes, theologians, and Early Church Fathers on the matter.

WHAT ABOUT THE SCRIPTURE THAT SAYS JUDAS "REPENTED"?
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)
Although the text says Judas repented, he obviously followed that by hanging himself. Thus, either he repented only momentarily but fell back into despair, or his repentance was not of the complete sort to which the Christian is called.
  • St. John Chrysostom suggests the repentance might have borne fruit, if the devil had not quickly lured him back into despair: 
    • "[T]he devil led him out of his repentance too soon, so that he should reap no fruit from thence." (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 85 on Matthew, 2.6, ca. 389 A.D.)
  • And elsewhere: 
    • "For this reason also the wicked one dragged Judas out of this world lest he should make a fair beginning, and so return by means of repentance to the point from which he fell." (St. John Chrysostom, Exhortation to Theodore, 1.9)
  • St. Leo suggests the same: 
    • "even [Judas] might have found salvation if he had not hastened to hang himself." (Pope St. Leo, Sermon 62.4, ca. 450 A.D.) 
  • St. Augustine deduces that Judas's repentance was not the sort that asked for pardon and mercy, for it produced no hope: 
    • For after [Judas] betrayed Him, and repented of it, if he prayed through Christ, he would ask for pardon; if he asked for pardon, he would have hope; if he had hope, he would hope for mercy; if he hoped for mercy, he would not have hanged himself in despair.... (Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 109. 8)
  • Cornelius Lapide, the 16th-17th century exegete, describes the falsity of the repentance:
    • Repented himself. Not with true and genuine repentance, for this includes the hope of pardon, which Judas had not; but with a forced, torturing, and despairing repentance, the fruit of an evil and remorseful conscience, like the torments of the lost.
  • The Navarre Bible Commentary
    • "Judas' remorse does not lead him to repent his sins and be converted." (The Navarre Bible, St. Matthew, on v.27:3-5, p. 174, 2005)
  • Haydock's Commentary similarly suggests Judas originally repented, but the devil talked him out of it, leading him to "eternal destruction": 
    • To his first repentance succeeded fell despair, which the devil pursued to his eternal destruction. If the unhappy man had sought true repentance, and observed due moderation in it, (by avoiding both extremes, presumption and despair) he might have heard a forgiving Master speaking to him these consoling words: I will not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may be converted and still live. Origen. (Haydock Commentary, Matthew 27, 1859)

Le Portement de Croix by Jean Fouquet, ca 1452-1460 (acquired from Wikimedia Commons)

WHAT ABOUT WHEN CHRIST SAID "WOE TO THAT MAN BY WHOM THE SON OF MAN IS BETRAYED! IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER FOR THAT MAN IF HE HAD NOT BEEN BORN."
  • On this verse, Lapide seems to suggest the words are more of a corrective warning: 
    • "For “far better is it not to exist at all, than to exist in evil. The punishment is foretold, that him whom shame had not conquered, the denunciation of punishment might correct,” says S. Jerome. He threatens him with the woe of damnation." (Lapide, Commentary on Matthew 26)
  • St. John Chrysostom likewise suggests the context is corrective: 
    • This He said to comfort His disciples, that they might not think that it was through weakness that He suffered; and at the same time for the correction of His betrayer. (St. John Chrysostom, quoted in Catena Aura on Matthew 26:20-25)
  • Remigius, the sixth century monk, interprets the words as "emphasis": 
  • Origen extends the meaning to refer to anyone who betrays Christ or his disciples: 

DID JUDAS BELIEVE HE COULD REPENT IN THE AFTERLIFE?
Let's take a short segue to look at a strange thought regarding Judas and his hanging. There is an interesting sentiment that Judas may have believed he could repent in the afterlife.
  • Origen says:
    • Or, perhaps, he desired to die before his Master on His way to death, and to meet Him with a disembodied spirit, that by confession and deprecation he might obtain mercy; and did not see that it is not fitting that a servant of God should dismiss himself from life, but should wait God's sentence. (Origen, quoted in Catena Aura, on Matthew 27:1-5, d.253 A.D.)
  • And Blessed Theophylact: 
    • [H]e hanged himself thinking to precede Jesus into hades and there to plead for his own salvation. (Bl. Theophylact, Commentary on Matthew 27, ca 1100)
Of course, if Judas did hang himself with the intent to plead with Christ in the afterlife, he failed to understand the nature of temporal life as the time of repentance, as Origen suggests above.

WHAT HOPE IS THERE FOR JUDAS IF HE DID NOT TRULY REPENT AND DESPAIRED BY HANGING?
First, let's examine two texts from recent Popes, confirming the uncertainty of Judas's fate:
Even when Jesus says of Judas, the traitor, "It would be better for that man if he had never been born" (Mt 26:24), His words do not allude for certain to eternal damnation. (St. John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 186, 1994) 
What is more, it darkens the mystery around his eternal fate, knowing that Judas "repented and brought back the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood'" (Mt 27: 3-4). Even though he went to hang himself (cf. Mt 27:5), it is not up to us to judge his gesture, substituting ourselves for the infinitely merciful and just God. (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Oct. 18, 2006)
Origen also suggests there was some inkling of hope in Judas's behavior:
[T]he instructions of Jesus had been able to produce some feeling of repentance in his mind, and were not altogether despised and loathed by this traitor. (Origen, Contra Celsium, 2.11)
St. John Chrysostom, although he believed the devil dragged Judas from life to prevent repentance, understood even Judas's sin was not beyond forgiveness:
For although it may seem a strange thing to say, I will not admit even that sin [of Judas] to be too great for the succour which is brought to us from repentance. (St. John Chrysostom, Exhortation to Theodore, 1.9)
Some might argue Judas was entirely possessed by the devil, and thus excused, however, this is not the understanding of the Church, nor does it account for his acknowledgement of guilt. Some might also argue he had gone mad. St. John Chrysostom (Homily 81, On Matthew, 3.4) and St. Leo I (Sermon 62.4) reference "madness," however, both refer to it in the sense of a madness of sin.

If we take the comments of Popes, theologians, and the Early Church Fathers as a totality, it seems the following might be 5 reasonable conclusions:
  1. Judas fell into grave sin in betraying Christ and handing him over to be condemned.
  2. When Judas repented by trying to return the silver, his repentance was fleeting or inauthentic.
  3. Judas's act of hanging indicates he did not trust in God's mercy and remained in a state of grave sin.
  4. His only remaining opportunity for repentance was his final moment during the hanging.*
  5. Conclusion: If Judas authentically repented in his final moment, he could possibly have found salvation.
Certainly, if Judas indeed repented in his final moment, his path is not a safe one to follow. None of us know their hour, and it is foolish to plan for a deathbed confession. Judas's example amplifies our need to repent and seek refuge in the sacrament of confession regularly, and especially when we commit a grave sin.

*There is a thought that Judas did not die by hanging, rather that he plunged from a cliff (cf. Acts 1:18), or that he hung himself and the rope broke, thus spilling him on the rock. But, for the purposes of this thought exercise, whether Judas's final moments came at the rope or on the rocks, the point remains the same—his last chance for repentance was his final moment.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sirach 11:29-34 Do not bring every man into your home...


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Monday, October 10, 2016

Wisdom 13:5 the beauty of created things...


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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Proverbs 18:2 A fool...


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Sunday, April 3, 2016

4 things to do when suffering

Following are a few suggestions I hope might be helpful to anyone experience suffering life. These are not "solutions" to make suffering go away. Many sufferers have learned there is not a secret formula to make it "stop." Not even prayer. Even in Scripture, Job cried out to God yet still lamented of his "months of emptiness" (Job 7:3), which may have amounted to years. Paul likewise begged for the removal of a thorn (2 Cor. 12:8-9), yet God did not effect Paul's request in the manner Paul requested it. Jesus himself prayed to be spared the cup of blood (Luke 22:42; Matt 26:39), yet he still endured the crucifixion. In this fallen world, we often feel the sting of suffering and of crying out repeatedly for relief.

So the purpose of this post is not to examine the mystery of suffering per se, but things we can do amidst it.

1. Offer your suffering as a gift to God.
Scripture teaches us both that Christ offered himself in suffering and that we suffer with him (e.g. Phil. 3:10, Rom 8:17). Deep down, there is a generosity here bestowed by God, that we might in some sense, by grace, join him in his work. It doesn't matter if we "feel" the value of this, but we are simply called to accept crosses and to share in Christ's suffering. We may never know in this life what God "does" with such gifts from His children. Do not worry about having that answer before being a child offering a father a present.

2. Pray even if your prayers are weak.
Don't worry if your suffering is so dark that you can barely muster a prayer. If you must, simply pray with your action, as in point #1, by accepting a share of the cross. If you've already prayed and prayed and things have never changed, you might find yourself in a dark, frustrated, empty place which razes at your faith and trust. Even if you are in such a condition, perhaps you could still pray something like: Lord, please hear me despite my anger and frustration. Don't let the answer to my prayer depend on the wreck that is my faith, nor the anger and sorrow that spills from my heart. Hear my prayer even if I feel like it is futile.

This can help place the matter more into God's hands than one's own. The petitioner admits his sorrow or anger or exhaustion. This can help the petitioner avoid falling into the deceptive trap of thinking his prayer didn't "work" because he didn't pray "right."

No matter how short or how poor you think the prayer comes out, God can work with it. This is the God who built a church on Peter, who was a flawed man in many ways. This is the God who built a universe literally out of nothing. Even a clumsily crafted prayer could become something great.

3. Recognize in your suffering a glimpse of Christ's suffering.
In today's Gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday, we read in part the story of Thomas who would not believe Christ had risen lest he see Christ's wounds.
John 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." 
Doubting St. Thomas by St. Tito (ca 1576-77)
(detail from photograph by Saliko,
acquired from Wikimedia Commons)
After seeing this, Thomas' awareness comes to life. Remember in #1 above how Scripture teaches we suffer with Christ. This is our window to Christ's suffering even when we are weak and faithless. Just like Thomas we desire to see Christ's wounds. Sometimes we are given that glimpse right in our own hearts.  When we suffer, we thus "see" Christ's suffering and garner our limited understanding of what Christ endured. And since Christ was wholly innocent and accepted this suffering, we know that whatever we suffer as sinful beings, Christ suffered infinitely worse as the innocent one. From this, we see the love Christ had for mankind. Although easier said than done,  we can translate this to our own lives. We say to ourselves:
If Christ willed to accept a suffering even worse than what I suffer now, how much must he have loved us. This is an example for me to follow when I do something loving for someone else. Do I hold my tongue against a family member while arguing, even if it is difficult for me to resist? Do I guard my eyes against sinful temptations even if I desire to look? Am I willing to accept something that is painful to me for the sake of doing something loving for another?
4. Recognize the faith underlying your frustration
Perhaps you find yourself vexed and frustrated, even "angry" at God after you've cried out again and again to be heard. Like Israel, you "cry out" (e.g. Ps. 22:2, Hab. 1:2) and wonder "how long" until you are "heard." Although the pain does not subside, part of the reason you are frustrated is because you recognize in God the power to hear you. There is faith in such a lamentation. In such a case, consider a prayer such as this:
God I wouldn't be so frustrated and crying out to You if I didn't think You had the power to help. Hidden in my rage is knowledge of Your power and divinity.
In a way, a prayer such as this can be a prayer of praise. And previously, perhaps you have found it very difficult to make a prayer of praise as you've endured heartbreak and difficulty day after day.

Conclusion
Only in suffering can the pinnacles of human love be realized. Is it easier to love a spouse when things are going well or difficult. Great love rises even in turmoil. All this can be overwhelming. None of the above suggestions may take away the pain we so desire be removed. With Job, Paul, Jesus, and Israel, we cry out for mercy, to be spared the pains, thorns, and cups of sacrifice. Even if we remain in the darkness and pains this fallen world delivers, it is worth looking to Scripture and Christ's love as an example to follow.


Note: The 4th point and other slight changes were made to this post on April 6, 2016.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why do Christians eat bacon?
A look at natural law.

THE ACCUSATION
In recent times, there have been multiple accusations by opponents of Christianity that Christians are hypocrites for doing such things as eating bacon when it is declared forbidden in the Old Testament (Lev. 11:7-8). Particularly, the accusation includes the notion that Christians inconsistently choose which OT precepts to follow. One flow chart circulating social media claims to "destroy" Christians for appealing to the Bible regarding homosexuality (Lev. 20:13) since they suspend other teachings of the Old Testament like the prohibition on eating pork. A blogger who professes to think "critically," writes about several forbidden OT precepts Christians practice today by tagging the post with "hypocrisy."

THREE VARIETIES OF OLD TESTAMENT PRECEPTS
However, these accusations are faulty. Here's why. Old Testament precepts often varied with regard to the permanence of their character. As commonly classed, there are three different varieties of OT precepts. St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the latter 13th century, expounded on these:
We must therefore distinguish three kinds of precept in the Old Law; viz. "moral" precepts, which are dictated by the natural law; "ceremonial" precepts, which are determinations of the Divine worship; and "judicial" precepts, which are determinations of the justice to be maintained among men. (Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2.a.99.4, ca 1270)
In short, the permanent precepts are the "moral," often compared to the "natural law." And, apart from containing overlap with moral precepts, the ceremonial and judicial precepts are not necessarily permanent.

Those familiar with Scripture can see these distinctions in some familiar stories. In fact, the accusations of "hypocrisy" made by today's skeptics are virtually identical to those made against Christ:
He answered, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, `Go to Silo'am and wash'; so I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know." They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" There was a division among them. (John 9:11-16)
You see how the Pharisees make the same argument as today's skeptics, not understanding why Jesus could morally "make clay" and perform a miracle on Sabbath, a day held for rest in the Ten Commandments, no less! (Ex. 20:8-11) The teaching of resting specifically on Saturday is not a teaching of the "natural law," it is, rather, a teaching of the ceremonial law, i.e. the day especially reserved in the OT for divine worship. Such a precept does not have the inherent permanent quality as would a moral teaching discernible from the natural law.

So, for instance, Jesus affirms other of the Ten Commandments explicitly:  
And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 19:8-9)
These teachings are part of the natural law. They are discernible by the light of human reason. The late theologian Fr. John Hardon described this discernment thusly:
It is therefore called natural law because everyone is subject to it from birth (natio), because it contains only those duties which are derivable from human nature itself, and because, absolutely speaking, its essentials can be grasped by the unaided light of human reason. (Fr. John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary, "Natural Law")
And, finally, the Catechism has a section on the natural law from CCC#1954-1960. Here is an excerpt:
The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties. ... The natural law is immutable and permanent throughout the variations of history. (CCC#1956, 1958)
Reason tells us a person is rightly due life. Through the human experience, we can therefore recognize that murder is an immoral violation. Man did not suddenly become accountable to the teaching of murder only when the Ten Commandments were issued. In the OT, even Cain was held accountable for murder long before the Ten Commandments (Gen. 4:8-14). Stealing likewise violates a person's right to due belongings. Adultery is also recognizable as an offense to the idea of the marriage bond. Jesus upheld such natural laws while not insisting upon the Sabbath ceremonial laws, even though all are included in the Ten Commandments. Shall today's skeptic encounter Jesus and accuse him of hypocrisy for upholding certain OT precepts while suspending others?

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul specifically distinguishes the reality of the natural law regardless of whether it appears in the OT:
When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Rom. 2:14-16)
This phrase "written on their hearts" is often cited as a description of the natural law Paul references here. With reason, we can recognize certain laws "by nature." (v.14)

Let's look at a modern analogy to help clarify.

MODERN ANALOGY
Let's say there are parents who teach their children the following "precepts."
  • Don't steal
  • Be in bed by 8 pm
Both are precepts for the children, but only one of them is a life-long moral obligation. Not to steal is a principle of the natural law. It is a violation against human dignity recognizable in the very lining of human experience. Even the most skeptical, atheistic person will cry foul if you steal his wallet. In saying this, the skeptic is appealing to the natural law. He recognizes that a person is capable of claiming ownership to belongings, and that it is to violate a person to steal his belongings. The concept is reasonably derivable without a higher authority explicitly articulating it.


Being awake past 8pm is not in and of itself immoral. The rule is given to achieve other advantageous results for the children, such as obedience, self-discipline, good rest for taking on the next day, etc. There's nothing about being awake at 8:30 p.m. that inherently violates one's humanity.

Hence, we can better understand why all the precepts in the Old Testament are not mandatory to today's Christian. Something like the marital law is naturally evident in the complementarity of the genders. It's not revocable because it is written in the very fiber of humanity. Something like murder is a violation of the life proper to other persons. The Church could not declare void the immorality of murder by arguing that all OT precepts are void. Natural laws would still apply because they transcend OT law.

NATURAL LAW: COMPARING PHYSICAL SICKNESS TO MORAL SICKNESS
Perhaps another analogy can help with the term "natural law." Sometimes, when we hear the term "nature" in this context, we think "occurring in nature." That is not the case. By natural law is meant proper to the nature of the subject in question. A person is naturally due his belongings. Hence, stealing is a moral violation of that proper nature.

I like to compare the idea of moral "health" to physical "health." Scripture does this repeatedly. For example, when the Pharisees asked Jesus why he associated with sinners, Jesus replied, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." (Luke 5:31) Spiritual health is comparable to physical health.


To recognize the sense in which the term "natural" is meant in the natural law, we can ask how do we determine that someone is sick or wounded? In order to do that, we necessarily must have an idea of what a properly healthy body is. We know that a healthy human arm is covered by intact skin. If that arm gets scraped by a sharp rock, that skin might incur a cut. We recognize that the bleeding should be stopped. A healthy arm does not bleed. Even after that, we recognize that it is healthy to treat the wound to prevent infection, which is also not ordered toward a healthy body. We might even apply ointment to prevent scarring. Such response is to restore the body to its proper order. If we do not know what the body's proper order is, we could not even identify what qualifies as a wound.


In the same way, we cannot call something immoral unless we have an idea of what a properly ordered person is. A properly ordered person is able to pursue life, is due his/her belongings, is defiled if sold against his/her will into slavery, etc. This is likewise where the Church would appeal to the proper use of the sexual faculties only within the context of a marriage because of the spousal, giving, fertile meaning of the body. Deviations from using the sexual faculties in this context are naturally identifiable as immoral. Like slavery, murder, or thievery, they violate human dignity.

Even a person who rejects the Church's view on any such issues must at least confront the discussion at this level of natural law. To make a case for spiritual health, one must successfully reason what is proper to a human being, just as one measures physical health by knowing what is proper to a human being. The dialogue must take place in this arena. Arguments otherwise often degenerate into basic fallacies of argument, such as appeals to emotion, appeals to modernism, or the like.

SO IF PORK ISN'T AGAINST THE NATURAL LAW, WHY WAS IT FORBIDDEN IN THE OLD TESTAMENT?
We have established here the varied types of "laws" in the Old Testament, which include permanent laws reflecting the "natural law," as well as ceremonial or judicial laws, which are not necessarily permanent to the human condition. The skeptic's next question undoubtedly asks what purpose a "ceremonial law," such as the prohibition on eating pork, would therefore serve in the OT, if it is not a law always applying to human beings. One could likely generate several good answers to this question, since Biblical truth is not always exhausted once one sound interpretation is attained. Nevertheless, here is one explanation.

It is critical to understand the principle of "divine accommodation" that permeates the condition of the ancient Jewish people. The theologian Dr. Scott Hahn expounds on this principle in this way:
[If] you’re inclined more towards earthly things than heavenly, God will use earthly things and invest them with heavenly symbolism, so that people will love these earthly things and discover in the objects they love a deeper heavenly meaning... (Dr. Scott Hahn, lecture for Theological Foundations course, 1999)
A PDF study guide from scotthahn.com similarly says:
Divine accommodation refers to God’s fatherly condescension and how He first gives us what we want in order to then give us what we need. As loving Father, He stoops down to our level and speaks to us using natural earthly means (chiefly in the Old Testament), but then calls us to Himself and gives us through the sacraments the supernatural means to share in His divine nature through self-denial and sacrificial love.
In his famous work City of God, St. Augustine writes:
The education of the human race, represented by the people of God, has advanced, like that of an individual, through certain epochs, or, as it were, ages, so that it might gradually rise from earthly to heavenly things, and from the visible to the invisible. This object was kept so clearly in view, that, even in the period when temporal rewards were promised, the one God was presented as the object of worship, that men might not acknowledge any other than the true Creator and Lord of the spirit, even in connection with the earthly blessings of this transitory life. ...  It was best, therefore, that the soul of man, which was still weakly desiring earthly things, should be accustomed to seek from God alone even these petty temporal boons, and the earthly necessaries of this transitory life, which are contemptible in comparison with eternal blessings, in order that the desire even of these things might not draw it aside from the worship of Him, to whom we come by despising and forsaking such things. (St. Augustine, City of God, 10.14, ca 420)
You see the basic principle of divine accommodation at work here: God uses earthly things, graspable to humans, to lead them to Himself. So, for example, gold, recognized by the Jews as precious, came to help them recognize that which was holy. God instructed Moses to forge the Ark of the Covenant, the place of His presence, with a structure of gold (cf. Ex. 25). Getting back to our concept of natural law, there is nothing inherent to gold that makes it a "holy" metal. But through the command to use gold, that audience more fully understood something holy must go within the Ark. They understood gold as that which was precious and pure. Purified precious metals were even used often to denote holiness (cf. Job 23:10, Ps. 12:6, etc.)

Now, let's return to the concept of pork. Why does Leviticus declare a pig "unclean"? What about killing and eating a pig would have significance to an ancient Jew? For one, they recognized the pig as a worshiping instrument to false gods.
Sometimes the uncleanliness of an animal has to do with how neighbouring peoples regarded that animal (they may have made it an object of worship or reserved it as something untouchable in honour of a god: the pig, for example, was used for sacrifices to the Babylonian god Tammuz. (The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, 1999, p. 454)
From the ancient Jewish perspective, the swine had significance as something contrary to the one and true God.

Perhaps another example could help the modern ear. Consider the swastika symbol, known to modern Westerners as the symbol for Nazism. For this reason, it is considered offensive and banned in many places, including Germany. However, prior to World War II, especially in the East, this symbol often represented well-being or good fortune, even used in advertising. Is there anything inherent to the symbol that makes it evil? No. There is no "natural law" appeal against such an arrangement of right angles. Nonetheless, to certain cultures, its banishment has more significance than others.

In the same way, the prohibition on swine to the Jews would turn their focus toward God, since, in that culture, they understood the animal as unclean, something pagans used for sacrifices to false idols. Likewise, the concept of "uncleanliness," leads toward the New Testament where uncleanliness is associated with sin. Jesus expounds on this concept with the Pharisees, who, again, clung to ceremonial law when they were prompted to recognize the natural law to which it pointed:
While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Luke 11:37-41)
You see, again, the Pharisees concern themselves with the OT ritual. Jesus explains to them the typological truth behind those precepts. For instance, ritual "cleanliness" corresponds to spiritual cleanliness. Note that he refers to almsgiving as something that truly makes one "clean." If we read the OT precepts in light of the principle of divine accommodation, we can recognize that OT  precepts about "cleanliness" were ordered to guide a certain "epoch" of mankind, as Augustine says. These precepts directed their focus to be clean as God would have them be clean. At that stage in history, they were able to digest a visible, ceremonial cleanliness, which prepared them to the invisible, spiritual cleanliness of which Christ spoke.

And so, today, in this different epoch of human history, standing on the shoulders of those ancient precepts, we can see that one of the reasons for the prohibition on pork was to order man toward God, and to strive for holy "cleanliness." In light of Christ's fulfillment of Old Testament law, we convert the principle behind the prohibition on pork to one that teaches us to avoid sin. There is nothing specific about eating a pig versus, say, a fish, that would violate the natural law.

Hence, there is no inconsistency in the modern Christian who both upholds the moral laws of the Old Testament while not necessarily upholding some of the ceremonial or juridical laws.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Parable of the Great Feast: On marriage, God, and Pope Francis

Parable of the Great Banquet, Brunswick Monogrammist, (ca 1525-1545), 
acquired from Wikimedia Commons

THE PARABLE OF THE GREAT BANQUET
16b A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; 17and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, "Come; for all is now ready." 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, "I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused." 19And another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused." 20And another said, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." 21So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, "Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame." 22And the servant said, "Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room." 23And the master said to the servant, "Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet." (Luke 14:16-24)
The context proceeds a moment later to the infamous line:
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (14:26)
As with many parables, there is a master and servants with the master representing God and the servants representing the people. The "invitation" to a banquet in the above parable corresponds to the eternal banquet (Rev. 19:9ff, CCC#1344, etc.).

In the parable, there are those who decline to attend. The passage refers to these "excuses." One points to his wife. The other two point to their professions. Of these persons, the master in the parable says they shall "[not] taste my banquet."

A cursory reading of the text may lead one to think one must follow God so "exclusively" that one cannot have a spouse, a family, a job, or even a "life." And that cursory reading would think the other of this text mad that any deviation from that exclusivity results in failure to attend the banquet––the figure of going to hell.

What could be so horrible about getting married or making a living or having a family? The answer is: nothing, in and of themselves.

I'll focus on the married servant, which I think will reveal the answer to each servant. We see Jesus opening his ministry in John's gospel account by attending a wedding and turning water into wine there at the prompt of his mother. (John 2:1-11). Jesus also affirms the sacrament of marriage as a divine event when he recalls Genesis:
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19:5-6)
Is Jesus here contradicting what he said in Luke? If the parable's servant in Luke is to part from his wife for God's sake, isn't that a contradiction to Matthew 19 which states that the marriage was God's doing in the first place?

Again, a cursory reading of both texts may appear that way at first, but within them is the answer. A proper understanding of the totality of the teaching would recognize that a true marriage is indeed godly and bears mutual love, of giving oneself to the other (cf. Eph. 5:33). I also treated this teaching in a prior post, What did the Catholic Church teach about marriage, men and women in 1880?, in which we saw in Scripture and Pope Leo's words the beauty of a marriage which resembles Christ and the Church as bridegroom and bride, respectively.

If one's marriage bears those characteristics, if the partners love one another in the figure of Christ and the Church, then that marriage has not become an "excuse" to refuse God's invitation. Rather, that marriage is united with God and united with God's invitation. Choosing that kind of marriage does not result in excluding God.

The two most profound commandments of Christ are to love God and to love neighbor (e.g. Mark 12:30-31). There is not a dichotomy between the two. Thus, we can recognize that in The Parable of the Great Banquet, the married servant, by "refusing" the master's invitation, revealed that he had separated the two commandments. His marriage was ungodly. He chose his wife instead of God rather than his wife together with God. In a sense, in this servant's mind, his wife had replaced God, and thus became an idol of sorts.

Consider a couple views from the early Church. St. Basil (d. 379) writes of the verse in this way:
But he says, I cannot come, because that the human mind when it is degenerating to worldly pleasures, is feeble in attending to the things of God. (St. Basil, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
St. Gregory (d. 604) writes:
But although marriage is good, and appointed by Divine Providence for the propagation of children, some seek therein not fruitfulness of offspring, but the lust of pleasure. And so by means of a righteous thing may not unfitly an unrighteous thing be represented. (St. Gregory, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
Both of their points are that the foolish servant represented someone who took something good, marriage, and amputated it from God.

The decisions of the man with the field and the man with the oxen reveal the same. Their professions became something of a false god in place of God. There was no time for God in their work on the farm. The idea is the same here. Our work must not be something that we use as an excuse to avoid God's prompts. The same would go for the hyperbolic statement in Luke 14:26, that we must "hate" our family for God's sake, again shows how much we must keep God in the equation. The foolish servants in the parable all flocked to "good" things, but made them bad by refusing to consider God in their engagement with those good things.

St. Paul synthesized this idea well:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)
All this leads to a final thought on the mistake of seeing someone write a criticism of a particular category of a thing and presume he is criticizing the entire category. In the above examples, it is proper to recognize only the folly of participating in marriage or work if those things are absent of God. It is faulty to presume Christ condemned marriage and work categorically.

THE PARABLE OF THE GREAT BANQUET IN LIGHT OF EVANGELII GAUDIUM
This past week, the media engaged in another poor representation of Pope Francis' words in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Various voices seem to think he categorically condemned free financial markets and capitalism. For example, the Pope writes the following:
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. ... In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. ... Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. (Evangelii Gaudium, 56-57)
You see if we read carefully, the Pope is not calling for categorical rejection of a free market. He is rather calling for a balance. He is calling for a market that includes ethics and due consideration of God––just as the master in The Great Banquet parable calls for those workers to still accept his invitation. What Pope Francis is condemning is a marketplace that has excluded ethics, excluded God. In other words, a business that commoditizes human beings commits offense against those persons. This can be seen, for example, in countries where workers are deprived of their due wage, or where there is price fixing, or monopolies, or collusion, etc.

Some opining in the media go so far as to brand the Pope a Marxist or Communist or that he wants a world government. But such representations of the document belie statements within it such as:
All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders. (#60)

If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just of a few.
(#206)


It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all. This role, at present, calls for profound social humility. (#240)
So these are just a few excerpts where the Pope condemns government corruption (not just financial corruption in marketplaces) and also emphasizes the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, which are concepts in Catholic thought based on the due freedom of an entity, whether individual, corporate, or public, such as a nation. He criticizes not free markets, but free markets which violate and manipulate persons. He criticizes not the wealthy, but the wealthy who exploit and debase persons. He even writes "The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike." (58)

In a 2011 book, On Heaven and Earth, the Pope, then-Cardinal Bergoglio, clearly did not create a dichotomy between rogue economies and communist thought. 
[The Church] condemns economic liberalism. Everyone thinks that the Church is against Communism, but it is as opposed to that system as it is to the savage economic liberalism which exists today. That is not Christian either and we cannot accept it.
In other words, everyone already knows the Church is opposed to Communist thought, but not everyone knows that the Church is opposed to what Pope Francis here calls "savage economic liberalism." To recognize him to condemn one is not to understand him to embrace the other. Yet many in the media have committed that exact error in interpretation.

The media also seems deluded that Pope Francis' teaching here is revolutionary. The media did not have the same sort of frenzy when Pope Benedict XVI said:
It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. (Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace, January 2013)
This statement by Pope Benedict encompasses a point Pope Francis drives home in Evangelii Gaudium––that a market which is "selfish and individualistic" (i.e. disregarding God) is what should be criticized.

So, once again, one should not make the false assumption that the Pope has "categorically" condemned free markets or all forms of government or all persons with wealth. Rather he is exhorting those entities to do what the master in The Parable of the Great Banquet asks of everyone––to include God in all that they do.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The canon of scripture, Damasus, and the "Gelasian Decree"


In some non-Catholic circles, there exists an argument against Pope Damasus having decreed the canon of Scripture at a council in Rome, ca 382 A.D. Here is an example from the One Fold blog arguing against Catholic apologist John Martignoni:
What John is referring to when he says the “canon was set at the Council of Rome in 382 A.D,” is actually a list from the Gelasian Decree produced in the sixth century and sometimes falsely attributed to the council of Rome.
A similar claim is made by Protestant historian F.F. Bruce:
What is commonly called the Gelasian decree on books which are to be received and not received takes its name from Pope Gelasius (492-496). It gives a list of biblical books as they appeared in the Vulgate, with the Apocrypha [sic] interspersed among the others. In some manuscripts, indeed, it is attributed to Pope Damasus, as though it had been promulgated by him at the Council of Rome in 382. But actually it appears to have been a private compilation drawn up somewhere in Italy in the early sixth century. (Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, p. 97)
One of the apologetic reasons for claiming the 382 decree on the canon is false is because the text in question includes the longer Catholic canon with 7+ books1––what Bruce calls the "Apocrypha." Catholics today refer to these texts as the Deuterocanon. Those opposed to the authenticity of the 382 decree are apparently averse to admitting to the antiquity of the Catholic canon. Admittedly, this is peculiar, because One Fold, perhaps following the admission on page 97 of Bruce, admits that the longer Catholic canon was declared at Hippo (393) and Carthage (397), just a few years later anyway.
The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa — at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 — but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities. (ibid. 97)
It's worth noting that Bruce admits the longer Catholic canon was "already the general practice" of the early Christian communities.

Nevertheless, what of the authenticity of Pope Damasus proclaiming the longer canon in 382? Catholic historian William Jurgens writes as follows:
The first part of this decree has long been known as the Decree of Damasus, and concerns the Holy Spirit and the seven-fold gifts. The second part of the decree is more familiarly known as the opening part of the Gelasian Decree, in regard to the canon of Scripture: De libris recipiendis vel non recipiendis. It is now commonly held that the part of the Gelasian Decree dealing with the accepted canon of Scripture is an authentic work of the Council of Rome of 382 A.D. and that Gelasius edited it again at the end of the fifth century, adding to it the catalog of the rejected books, the apocrypha. It is now almost universally accepted that these parts one and two of the Decree of Damasus are authentic parts of the Acts of the Council of Rome of 382 A.D. (Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 1, p. 404)
So, according to Jurgens, both Damasus and Gelasius included the canonical list, but Gelasius added additional forbidden texts. Whether this took place at the "end of the fifth" century or the "sixth" century, as Bruce asserts, they are apparently speaking of the same Gelasian text. The question is whether or not what Gelasius wrote in the 5th/6th century was an innovation from the 382 Decree of Damasus as One Fold and Bruce assert.

It seems to me, the Decree of Damasus in 382 at the council of Rome is the more historically sound. Here's why. In 1912, the author Ernst von Dobsch├╝tz, gave his historical rationale for doubting that Damasus made a decree on the canon at Rome in 382. He points out that in the Gelasian decree is a quotation from St. Augustine dating from 416. Therefore, he denies that any other part of the decree could have originally been from Damasus in 382. From this, he concludes that the entirety of Damasus' decree has "no historical value." We see, of course, that this is specious reasoning. After all, if Damasus declared a canonical list in 382, and Gelasius in the 5th/6th century added to that a quote from Augustine, that would not erase Damasus' original declaration.

All these dates and names can be confusing. But here's the apparent timeline:
  • 382 - Pope Damasus makes his decree on the larger Catholic canon
  • 416 - Augustine makes his comments.
  • 5th/6th century - Gelasius takes Damasus' decree, and edits it, adding to it the Augustinian quote and lists other apocryphal texts
If Gelasius added an Augustinian quote, it has no effect on what Damasus declared. Yet von Dobsch├╝tz concludes the entire Decree of Damasus is worthless. Bruce apparently echoes this historical view by calling into question the dating of the canonical list in Damasus' decree.

Another Protestant resource confirms Jurgens and the timeline I have posited above:
A council probably held at Rome in 382 under St. Damasus gave a complete list of the canonical books of both the Old Testament and the New Testament (also known as the 'Gelasian Decree' because it was reproduced by Gelasius in 495), which is identical with the list given at Trent. (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., p. 232)
Thus, we have sound evidence that the longer Catholic canon found acceptance from councils ancient and more recent including Rome (382), Hippo (393), Carthage (397), Nicea II (797), Florence (1442)Trent (1546) and Vatican I (1870). It is this canonical list that has found consistency throughout the centuries.


1For the text of the decree on the canon at the council at Rome (382), see Gary Michuta's Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger, page 126-127, or refer to the Latin text here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Did the 1611 King James Bible delete the Deuterocanon?

Sometimes in the land of Christian internet forums, there is confusion as to whether or not the original 1611 King James version (KJV) of the Bible deleted the Deuterocanonical books (Wisdom, Sirach, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, and 1 & 2 Maccabees). So what is the answer?

Did the 1611 King James Bible delete the books of the Deuterocanon?

The answer is yes and no.

The answer is no because the Deuterocanonical books remained within the front and back cover of the 1611 KJV.

The answer is yes because the 1611 KJV removed the Deuterocanonical books from the contents of inspired Scripture to a section of uninspired "Apocrypha." A scan of the original table of contents of the 1611 KJV can be seen here at handsonapologetics.com.

This was a departure from centuries of councils affirming the inspired canonicity of the Deuterocanonical books (eg. regional councils at Rome (382), Hippo (393), Carthage (397), Nicea II (797), and ecumenical councils at Florence (1442) and Trent (1546)).

So in one sense, the 1611 KJV didn't remove the Deuterocanonical books because they still were included in its pages. Yet in another sense, the Deuterocanon was indeed removed from the contents of inspired Scripture.

On a note of interest, the compilers of the 1611 KJV still thought much more highly of the Deuterocanonical books than do many Christians today who mock their edificational value. In the 1611 KJV, there are some 102 verse cross-references (11 in the New Testament) to Deuterocanonical books. For example, here is a screenshot from the 1611 KJV that shows a cross-reference of Hebrews 11:3 to Wisdom 7:26:

More screenshots and cross-references are detailed at handsonapologetics.com.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

St. Paul taught one Savior for Gentile or Jew

Following is a paper I did in my Pauline Soteriology master's class. It is a critique of the book Reinventing Paul by John S. Gager.


In the book Reinventing Paul, John S. Gager proposed the admittedly novel idea that Paul taught two paths to eternal salvation. For Jews, this path remains unchanged from the Old Covenant. For Gentiles (aka. Greeks), this path is rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. “Paul does not conceive of Israel’s salvation with reference to Christ,” wrote Gager (46).
The path for salvation Gager posited for the Jews was not entirely clear. He cited a fourth century Rabbi’s opinion that “[t]he word of the Lord went forth in two aspects, slaying the heathen who would not accept it, but giving life to Israel who accepted the Torah” (56). In a negative way, Gager more often advanced the idea that Israel is not saved through faith in Christ (e.g. 46).
To stick close to the three-to-four page parameter of this assignment, I will just present a few of the more glaring errors in Gager’s conclusions. These should suffice to dismantle his premises that Jews can attain salvation apart from Christ.
Paul only preached to Gentiles in the synagogues?
One of Gager’s mantras is the claim that Paul’s audience was invariably Gentile, and therefore when Paul rejected such Israelite practices like circumcision, he only meant it applied to Gentiles (e.g. 52). Gager insisted Paul only ever focused on Gentiles (51, 68) to support his theory that Paul was not condemning OT ordinances for Jews since his audience was always Gentile. Yet Gager does not address Acts 18:4 which reads: “And [Paul] argued in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks.” Furthermore, Gager never considers that the reason Paul rejects OT ordinances for Gentiles could be because they neither save Gentiles nor Jews.
Christ not the Messiah for Jews?
Gager denied that Paul understood Jesus as the Messiah anticipated by the Jews. “For Paul, Jesus is neither a new Moses, nor the Messiah, he is not the climax of . . . God’s dealings with Israel, but he is the fulfillment of God’s promises concerning the Gentiles” (142). This is problematic. For example, in Acts 17, Paul preached in the synagogues “of the Jews” (v.1) that “[t]his Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (v.3). This resulted in some of them being persuaded as well as “many of the devout Greeks” (v.4). The context distinguishes part of the audience from the Greeks who were also there. Both parties were persuaded. To validate the notion that Jews were included as the intended audience of Paul’s preaching of Jesus as the Christ anticipated by the Jews, we can continue in Acts 17 when Paul and Silas preached to the Berean Jews. The Bereans searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul said about Christ was true. These Berean Jews, again distinct from the “Greeks” (v.12) present, believed.
Gager’s dismissal of Galatians 3:28
One of the more straightforward verses supporting the traditionalist view is Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is stated immediately after Paul teaches that baptism unites one to Christ. Gager denied that the Jew has any such connection to Jesus Christ, and certainly wouldn’t be bound to Christian baptism.
Gager expends few words on this verse, dismissing it by quoting his theological ally on this matter, Lloyd Gaston. Gaston says the purpose of this verse is to affirm that “as women do not need to become men . . . so Jews do not need to become Gentiles nor do Gentiles need to become Jews” (90). Gager adds: “It is a formula of inclusion, not exclusion” (90). Gager is correct that the verse is one of inclusion. But it does not mean what Gager argues throughout the book – that salvation for Jews is not in Christ. Gager’s brief dismissal does not reflect what the text says. The text says the Jews are among the “all” who are “one in Christ,” which is damning to Gager’s position. He gives these words in the verse no attention.
The irony in Gager’s escape here is that he insisted that traditionalists, ever looking at the text with “Western” (51) or “modern” (e.g. 72) bias “complete [Paul’s] sentences for him, to supply missing words, and . . . make explicit what he leaves unspoken” (23, cf. 110). Yet, this is precisely what Gager does to the text of Romans 3:28. The traditionalist view is consistent with the text. Jews are included – in Christ.
Gager’s dismissal of Romans 3:30
I will include the pertinent Greek words in the verse that reveal the flaw in Gager’s interpretation. Using Gager’s translation, Romans 3:30 reads: “God will justify the circumcised out of faith (ek pistis) and the uncircumcised through faith (dia pistis).” In verses 22, 24, and 26, Paul described faith as being “in Jesus.” However, Gager denies that verse 30’s two mentions of faith both refer to faith in Christ. He claims the different prepositions preceding the word faith indicate the different kinds of faith necessary to Jews and to Gentiles. He does not believe Paul is simply using different ways of saying both Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith in Christ.
Gager wrote: “[T]he use of different prepositions (ek and dia) with pistis points to different paths for Jews and Gentiles . . .” (121). The rule Gager imposed on the text is that ek pistis is faith for Jews and dia pistis is faith for Gentiles.
But this rule becomes extremely problematic when applying it to other verses. We see Paul using the term ek pistis in both Romans and Galatians to specifically refer to faith “in Christ” (e.g. Rom. 5:21, Gal. 3:22). Paul also uses the term dia pistis elsewhere to mean faith “in Christ” (e.g. Eph. 2:8). In other words, citing the Greek in Romans 3:30 only hurts Gager’s position because Paul used the terms ek pistis and dia pistis interchangeably to mean faith in Christ.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Did Athanasius reject the Deuterocanon?

Catholic and many Orthodox Bibles have 7 more books in their Old Testaments than most modern Protestant translations of the Bible. The books in Catholic or Orthodox Bibles called the Deuterocanon (known to some Christians as "Apocrypha") are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 & 2 Maccabees.1 It is not uncommon to read an apologetic against the Deuterocanon that appeals to the 4th century's St. Athanasius as having "rejected" those books. An example of such an apologetic can be seen at sites like reachingcatholics.org which said Athanasius "spoke against the Apocrypha," or truthnet.org which goes so far as to say Athanasius "vehemently opposed their use."

The citation of Athanasius to support this argument is from his Letter 39. The apologist will claim Athanasius listed the books of the Old Testament and did not include the Deuterocanon. Athanasius then follows this list with the words:
These are the fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness.
However, a closer examination reveals the error in concluding Athanasius rejected the Deuterocanon as Scriptural. Here is the entirety of his preceding paragraph listing the books of the Old Testament:
There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua, the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the twelve being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle, one book; afterwards, Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament.
Some observations:
  • Athanasius absorbed Baruch, a Deuterocanonical book, as part of the book of Jeremiah.
  • The "epistle" of Jeremiah is also known as the final chapter of Baruch, indicating Athanasius accepted Baruch in its entirety.
  • The book of Esther, which is accepted as Scriptural by the same apologists who appeal to Athanasius to condemn the Deuterocanon, is missing from his list.
These observations alone are enough to dispel the myth that Athanasius "rejected the Deuterocanon." But there is more.

In the final paragraph of Letter 39 is this closing:
But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles [i.e. Didache], and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.
It is again, time for more observations:
  • Esther, which both Protestant and Catholic Bibles have in their canons today, is included among the other Deuterocanonical books according to Athanasius.
  • Perhaps more importantly is that Athanasius considered this group of books in a class distinct from "apocryphal writings." The apocryphal writings, he said, are "heretical."
Athanasius said these books are indeed read in churches by those new to the faith who "wish for instruction in the word of godliness." Remember, only one paragraph earlier Athanasius said the canonical books "alone...proclaimed the doctrine of godliness." Yet in the next paragraph he said the books in question were read by those who "wish for instruction in the word of godliness." And he said his purpose for writing this last paragraph was for "greater exactness."

In other words, Athanasius considered these additional Deuterocanonical books in a class something other than "canonical" Scripture yet not "apocryphal." In modern times, we are tempted to consider an ancient religious text as either one of two things: either canonical Scripture or apocryphal literature. Yet in Letter 39, Athanasius expressed a third class of writing which he assigned to these Deuterocanonical books.

So would it be fair to say Athanasius considered these Deuterocanonical books Scriptural but not in a class of "canonical" Scripture? A specific example is revealing:
But of these and such like inventions of idolatrous madness, Scripture taught us beforehand long ago, when it said, "The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them, the corruption of life." (Athanasius, Against the Heathen, #11)
The "Scripture" Athanasius cited here is from a Deuterocanonical book. It is Wisdom 14:12. Therefore, even though he did not list Wisdom among canonical Scripture, he still considered the text "Scripture."

I cannot conclude without mentioning another error in the apologist's quest to condemn the Deuterocanon. Even if Athanasius were indeed opposed to the Scriptural quality of all the Deuterocanonical books, that would not automatically affect the Catholic position. This would still hold true even if 2 or 3 or 10 Early Church Fathers (ECFs) were found to explicitly reject the Scriptural quality of the Deuterocanon. There are numerous ECFs who clearly support the Scriptural quality of the Deuterocanon such as St. Irenaeus, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Hippolytus, and countless others. The Church has been given the guarantee for such theological discernment. The same canon was affirmed at the local councils at Rome, Hippo, and Carthage in the late 4th and early 5th centuries. Subsequent ecumenical councils, Florence in the 15th century and Trent in the 16th century, confirmed the ancient local councils. These all included the Deuterocanon.

Thus, the attempt to discredit the Deutercanon by finding some ECFs who opposed them would merely showcase the need for the Church to intervene and accept the Spirit's guidance. This is exactly what occurred in Acts 15 when some of the Church leaders believed in the necessity of circumcision while others did not. That council in Acts 15 conclude that circumcision was not mandatory for salvation. To cite after the fact the contrary opinions of any handful of pro-circumcision Church leaders is an erroneous way to discredit the discernment of the council.

One final note is regarding the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. St. Athanasius doesn't mention these two Deuterocanonical books in Letter 39. However, I would contend the evidence leans toward Athanasius having an affinity for them. In his Espositiones in Psalmos, line 05667, he praises the righteous shedding of blood by the Maccabees. More than likely, he knows this from the books of the Maccabees since that moniker does not appear in the Jewish Talmud or Midrash "where the family is always referred to as 'the Hasmoneans.'"

1Longer versions of Esther and Daniel are also classified as Deuterocanonical even though those portions are not considered entirely separate books. There also appears to be some diversity on a precise canon in the Orthodox Church according to Orthodox priest Fr. R. Stergiou, although these variations include more, not less, books than the Catholic and other Orthodox canons.