Tuesday, September 27, 2011

St Francis of Assisi was as Catholic as they come

He's honored in the Billy Graham Museum's Rotunda of Witnesses, he's cited as an inspiration for the New Monasticism movement, and he's just in general held in great respect among evangelicals. And rightly so, since his life of radical adherence to Christ is just as challenging today as it was 800 years ago.

But as many evangelicals are inspired by the life of St Francis of Assisi, they often are unaware or ignore that St Francis was about as committed to the Catholic faith as they come. He wasn't a Catholic who wished he was Protestant: instead, he held with all of his being as essential to the faith those very things by which Protestants have defined themselves by rejecting as Satanic corruptions of the faith.

In other words, he wouldn't be skipping Sunday morning Mass for a Eucharist-less rock concert at the local non-denominational ecclesial community.

Am I happy that evangelicals are interested at all in looking to the lives of pre-Reformation Catholic saints? Of course! - it played a significant role in leading me back to Mother Church! I ask only that as they do so, they look at the actual lives of the saints - not censored, watered-down versions made to fit modern American evangelicalism. As evangelicals do so, I hope that they will see that Protestantism truly is a fairly recent innovation and that the Catholic Church is indeed Christ's Church of the ages.

When we look at St Francis' life, we find one that was decidedly Catholic: he went to Mass, obeyed the hierarchy, fought against heresy, is credited with bringing Eucharistic Adoration to Italy, and founded a new monastic order that reported directly to the Pope. In a time when grave disorders and abuses in the Church were rampant, St Francis sought reform by living a life of even more radical adherence to the Church and her teachings - the opposite of the entire Protestant project.

We find more in the few writings he left behind: he exhorted people to confess all of their sins to priests, warned that mortal sin led to hell, and left behind a beautiful prayer of praise to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

But St Francis mostly wrote about the Eucharist - and rightly so, since the Eucharist has always been at the center of authentic Christian living. The Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council of the 1960s reaffirmed the faith of St Francis of Assisi when it taught that "the Eucharistic sacrifice...is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life" (Lumen Gentium, 11). The beliefs and practices of modern evangelicals, on the other hand, would be absolutely foreign - if not outright blasphemous - to St Francis.

Among the quotes from his writings below, you'll find that he firmly believed in the real presence in the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Mass, that only priests can consecrate the Eucharist, and that all priests, regardless of their personal sanctity, should be reverenced as a result - all of which are rejected by modern day evangelicals.

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Let the entire man be seized with fear; let the whole world tremble; let heaven exult when Christ, the Son of the Living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest. O admirable height and stupendous condescension! O humble sublimity! O sublime humility! that the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under a morsel of bread. (Letter to All the Friars)

We ought...to visit Churches frequently and to reverence clerics not only for themselves, if they are sinners, but on account of their office and administration of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which they sacrifice on the altar and receive and administer to others. And let us all know for certain that no one can be saved except by the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the holy words of the Lord which clerics say and announce and distribute and they alone administer and not others. (Letter to All the Faithful)

But all those who do not do penance and who do not receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but who give themselves to vices and sins and walk after evil concupiscence and bad desires and who do not observe what they have promised, corporally they serve the world and its fleshly desires and cares and solicitudes for this life, but mentally they serve the devil, deceived by him whose sons they are and whose works they do; blind they are because they see not the true light,—our Lord Jesus Christ. (Letter to All the Faithful)

For man despises, soils, and treads under foot the Lamb of God when, as the Apostle says, not discerning and distinguishing the holy bread of Christ from other nourishments or works, he either eats unworthily... (Letter to All the Friars)

We ought indeed to confess all our sins to a priest and receive from him the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who does not eat His Flesh and does not drink His Blood cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.  Let him, however, eat and drink worthily, because he who receives unworthily "eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Body of the Lord," —that is, not discerning it from other foods. (Letter to All the Faithful)

I conjure you all to show all reverence and all honor possible to the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the things that are in heaven and the things that are on earth are pacified and reconciled to Almighty God. I also beseech in the Lord all my brothers who are and shall be and desire to be priests of the Most High that, when they wish to celebrate Mass, being pure, they offer the true Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ purely, with reverence, with a holy and clean intention, not for any earthly thing or fear or for the love of any man, as it were pleasing men. But let every will, in so far as the grace of the Almighty helps, be directed to Him, desiring thence to please the High Lord Himself alone because He alone works there [in the Holy Sacrifice] as it may please Him, for He Himself says: "Do this for a commemoration of Me;" "if any one doth otherwise he becomes the traitor Judas and is made guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord." (Letter to All the Friars)

For many things are sanctified by the word of God, and by the power of the words of Christ the Sacrament of the Altar is effected. (Letter to All the Friars)

I entreat you more than if it were a question of myself that, when it is becoming and it may seem to be expedient, you humbly beseech the clerics to venerate above all the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Name and written words which sanctify the body. They ought to hold as precious the chalices, corporals, ornaments of the altar, and all that pertain to the Sacrifice. And if the most holy Body of the Lord be lodged very poorly in any place, let It according to the command of the Church be placed by them and left in a precious place, and let It be carried with great veneration and administered to others with discretion. The Names also and written words of the Lord, wheresoever they may be found in unclean places, let them be collected, and they ought to be put in a proper place. And in all the preaching you do, admonish the people concerning penance and that no one can be saved except he that receives the most sacred Body and Blood of the Lord. And while It is being sacrificed by the priest on the altar and It is being carried to any place, let all the people on bended knees render praise, honor, and glory to the Lord God Living and True.  (Letter to the Custodes)

Let us all consider, O clerics, the great sin and ignorance of which some are guilty regarding the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His most holy Name and the written words of consecration. For we know that the Body cannot exist until after these words of consecration. For we have nothing and we see nothing of the Most High Himself in this world except [His] Body and Blood, names and words by which we have been created and redeemed from death to life.But let all those who administer such most holy mysteries, especially those who do so indifferently, consider among themselves how poor the chalices, corporals, and linens may be where the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is sacrificed. And by many It is left in wretched places and carried by the way disrespectfully, received unworthily and administered to others indiscriminately. Again His Names and written words are sometimes trampled under foot, for the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of God. Shall we not by all these things be moved with a sense of duty when the good Lord Himself places Himself in our hands and we handle Him and receive Him daily? Are we unmindful that we must needs fall into His hands? Let us then at once and resolutely correct these faults and others; and wheresoever the most holy Body of our Lord Jesus Christ may be improperly reserved and abandoned, let It be removed thence and let It be put and enclosed in a precious place. In like manner wheresoever the Names and written words of the Lord may be found in unclean places they ought to be collected and put away in a decent place. And we know that we are bound above all to observe all these things by the commandments of the Lord and the constitutions of holy Mother Church. And let him who does not act thus know that he shall have to render an account therefor before our Lord Jesus Christ on the day of judgment. And let him who may cause copies of this writing to be made, to the end that it may be the better observed, know that he is blessed by the Lord. (On Reverence for the Lord's Body and the Cleanliness of the Altar)

**All of these quotes were taken from his writings as they appear here.**

Monday, September 19, 2011

If the Catholic Church Isn't Main-Stream Christianity, I'm Not Sure What Is

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to talk to one of my old evangelical friends from high school about the Catholic Church and why I felt compelled to join. At one point in our conversation, he asked:
"If the Catholic Church was the original church, why is it no longer in main-stream Christianity?" (1)

And in response to my recent post The Holy Spirit Told Me To Change The Bible, this was one of the comments:
"Hi Brantley, you are absolutely correct in saying that if any megachurch or even Billy Graham himself tried to alter the 66 book canon, heresy would be yelled from the rooftops(or facebook). There's no way it would fly. But Luther and Calvin's alteration did fly. People were sold on it and went with it. Why? Where was the uproar that you know would happen today, then. Why did the faithful accept the shortened canon?"

Here are the quick answers to their questions:
To the first, Catholicism never 'left main-stream Christianity'. It's still in whatever stream it's always been.

To the second, the vast majority of Christians did not, and still do not, accept the new biblical canon of the Reformers. The uproar you're wondering about was the Church's entire response to the Reformation, which included the 18-year-long and greatly prolific Council of Trent, widespread reforms of the inner-workings of the Church, the founding of several new religious orders, countless Catholic martyrs attempting to re-evangelize those who left the Church (yes, Protestants died as well), and the rise of six new doctors of the Church.

In any event, both individuals asked their questions in good faith. But both encounters represent a very common misconception among evangelicals.

Many evangelicals, it seems, have the mistaken notion that Protestantism, and then later American evangelicalism in particular, is Christianity since the 16th century; in other words, that, while the Catholic Church had been the place of Christianity in the centuries prior, the 16th century Protestants sort of "took over from there". This view of history leads many evangelicals who reject the Catholic Church, even considering it some sort of cult, to look back fondly on St Francis of Assisi or St Augustine or many other great saints and understand them to "be on the same team" as them. Great Catholic saints of the last few centuries are largely ignored, while great Protestants are held up in their place. The idea is that whatever stream St Francis and St Augustine were in, Protestantism, and perhaps now evangelicalism - but certainly not the modern Catholic Church - is the continuation of that.

Here are two great examples of what I'm talking about:
Mark Driscoll
(a) Check out the Rotunda of Witnesses in the Billy Graham Center Museum on Wheaton College's campus where you'll find St Justin the Martyr, St Gregory the Great, St Francis of Assisi, and Blaise Pascal alongside Martin Luther, Jonathon Edwards and other Protestants in a display that holds them all up as great Christian witnesses as the name suggests. (I gave more of my thoughts about this in my most recent post.)

(b) Another great example is how non-denominational evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll absurdly pretends that St Patrick, St Athanasius, and St Augustine - all of whom were Catholic bishops - were somehow not Catholic (I specifically respond to the idea that St Augustine was not a Catholic in my post St Augustine Was A Devout Catholic).

All of this would make sense if Protestants had in some way overthrown the Church, or taken her over in a coup d'├ętat, or if Catholicism had died away after the Reformation leaving only Protestants to keep Christianity going, or even if Protestantism had restored the Christian faith as it had existed for most of history - the faith of St Patrick, St Francis, St Augustine, and St Athanasius, etc.

But none of those things happened.

In point of fact, the Catholic Church didn't go anywhere. The Catholic Church existed before, during, and after the Reformation and is still going strong in the present day. The Catholic Church today is the same Catholic Church of the 4th century, the 12th century, the 18th century, or any of the last 20 centuries - the same Catholic Church of all of the saints of history (of course, with our eyes wide open to legitimate development). The Reformers, on the other hand, left the Church of the ages and rejected dogma after dogma that had been held by all Christians of all times, even changing the Bible (see "Those Extra Books": Who Really Changed the Bible and The Holy Spirit Told Me To Change The Bible). In other words, modern day evangelicals are not fully a part of the same thing of which the great saints of the first 1500 years were a part: the Catholic Church. (2)

A World Youth Day crowd
And besides, it's still the case today that the vast majority of people who follow Christ are Catholic (3). Not that it proves that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ, but it certainly means that Catholics are at least a part of whatever one might construe as 'main-stream Christianity'.

That is - unless of course you don't think that Catholics are Christians. But then Catholics only 'left the main-stream' in your mind because you decided to define them out of it, not because anything at all has changed or happened to Catholics. Plus, since the only individuals that evangelicals might look to for Christian inspiration before the Reformation were all Catholic, if Catholics aren't Christians, I'm not sure what Christian stream Protestantism took over. One can't lambast the modern Church's doctrines of, let's say, the real presence or apostolic succession and at the same time embrace the saints who lived and defended those very doctrines.

It is precisely this realization, it seems to me, that the Catholic Church is the uninterrupted Church of Christian history - or put another way, that the Catholic Church is the continuation of the Catholic Church - that is at the heart of many of the conversions of evangelicals to the Catholic Church in recent years.

(1) I can't remember his exact words, so this "quote" is a paraphrase
(2) I say "not fully" because evangelicals are, in virtue of their baptism, in partial communion with the Catholic Church
(3) Granted, it's always difficult to ever get an accurate count of the number of sincere, practicing adherents to any religion, so any stats regarding the number of Catholics, evangelicals, or what have you, is always somewhat fuzzy. Nonetheless, all statistics on the issue show that there are several times more Catholics in the world than evangelicals.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Billy Graham Museum Honors a Pope Alongside Luther As Great Christian Witness

If you're ever in the Chicago area, I recommend you check out the great Billy Graham Center Museum on Wheaton College's campus. In addition to a great exhibition on the history of evangelical preachers in the US, with a very interesting and extensive display on the ministry of Billy Graham, there is what is called the Rotunda of Witnesses. You can't miss it: it's the first thing you walk through to get to the rest of the museum.

It's a big black room with a tall ceiling and has these beautiful banners on the walls that depict individuals that whoever put the museum together holds up as great Christian witnesses in history.

Among those honored there you'll find St Justin the Martyr, St Gregory the Great, St Francis of Assisi, and Blaise Pascal, right there alongside Martin Luther, Jonathon Edwards, and other Protestants.

Once I started to become more serious about Catholicism during my Junior year at Wheaton, I suddenly realized just how strange this display is.

Consider the lives of these four men that an evangelical institution - that will not even allow Catholics on staff - is holding up as great Christian witnesses:

St Justin the Martyr was a 2nd century Catholic philosopher and apologist who believed in the real presence of the Eucharist and has left for us the earliest detailed account of the Mass. (I demonstrate both in my post How the Early Christians Worshiped.)

St Francis of Assisi was a great Catholic reformer of the 13th century who founded a Catholic order, brought Eucharistic adoration to Italy, and taught that people should show reverence to their priests - even if the priests were bad men (see his Letter to All the Faithful; a far cry from the Protestant Reformers!).

St Gregory the Great was not only a monk but of course also a Pope - an office that Luther, who's depicted in the same display, taught was a Satanic office. The monastic life was also rejected by most Protestants. In the display, Gregory is actually depicted in papal vestments (looks like a three-tiered papal tiara on his head to me) and with the title "servum servorum dei" - a title that he coined that has since become a title of the Pope.

Most strangely, Blaise Pascal was a Catholic after the Reformation and during a time when normal Protestant rhetoric was to interpret Revelation's Whore of Babylon as the Catholic Church.

It is of course absurd to hold these people up right alongside the very people who tore down a lot for which they stood. It seems to me that this is some sort of attempt to make evangelicals feel like they're a part of the Great Tradition when in fact they reject most it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Review: 'If Protestantism Is True: Reformation Meets Rome' by Devin Rose

If Protestantism Is True begins with author Devin Rose's own gripping testimony of his journey from atheism, evangelicalism, and finally the Catholic Church. Growing up in a nominal Christian family, Rose found himself proudly self-identifying as an atheist from an early age. Ironically, however, it was when he was in college that, after being led to despair, emptiness, and even considerations of suicide by his atheism, he began to pray and seek after God. His roommate happened to be an evangelical Christian, so Devin began attending church with him, where he met and gave his life to Christ. With the zeal of a new Christian, Rose began an intense study of the faith, and since he had not grown up with it, he was able to see and evaluate the evangelical beliefs he was being taught with fresh eyes. After lengthy period of study, prayer, and debate with his evangelical friends, Rose eventually concluded that the Catholic Church is the fullest manifestation of Christ's Church.

For the rest of the book, Rose goes topic by topic, including issues such as the biblical canon, the sacraments, and Mary, explaining relevant biblical material and Church history. At the end of each section he asks his reader to consider, given what he has just explained, what the logical consequences of the claims of Protestantism must be.

For example, on the chapter on the biblical canon, Rose gives a quote from Protestant Reformer John Calvin in which Calvin disregards the role of the Church in settling the biblical canon and argues that a individual Christian who is truly indwelt with the Holy Spirit can know which books should and should not be included in the Bible - as easily as one can "distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter" - simply by reading the books themselves. John Calvin, of course, endorsed the new 66 book Protestant canon - a canon which, according to historical record, no Christian had ever thought was the canon in the 1500 years prior to the Reformation. Rose explains the logical conclusion of Calvin's claims:

"If Protestantism is true, then the canon is obvious to any true Christian bright enough to discern black from white. Therefore many (supposedly) holy men and women who gave their lives for Christ in the early centuries of the Church did not actually have the Holy Spirit, for they were not able to apprehend the true canon of Scripture. If the canon is known easily by the Spirit testifying to the Christian's heart, it must be concluded that not until Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other Protestant Reformers in the sixteenth century did true Christian leaders exist who listed to the Holy Spirit on this topic." (pg. 77)

The book particularly takes off with the second apologetic chapter, "Reformation: Schism or Branches?", and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest. In example after example, Rose hits the nail on the head, forcing the reader to truly consider the logic or reasonableness of many Protestant claims in a very clear, engaging, and interesting manner. And the breadth of Rose's research is wide, taking into account the Bible, the Church Fathers, the Reformers, and modern historical analysis of the Reformation. Two subjects that were particularly interesting were Rose's defense of the Sacraments and his look into the lives and teachings of the Reformers themselves (e.g. Martin Luther taught that polygamy was morally permissible [pg. 55] and rejected the inspiration of several New Testament books [pg. 69]). Certain sections of the book were so informative and/or lucid that I found myself having to read aloud much of the book to my patient wife.

Devin Rose, the author
So it was unfortunate that I found Rose's first apologetic chapter, "The Catholic Church In History", somewhat slow and at times confusing. Part of its problem was that the line from the title, "If Protestantism is true..." was used too frequently. The line had the most power in those chapters in which is was used more sparingly (such as ch 8, "The Sacraments"). Another issue, albeit minor but one that may stand out to evangelical readers who will already be on the defensive when reading, is that Rose's language occasionally veers from his otherwise formal tone.

However, despite the clear polemical intent of the book, Rose does not personally attack Protestants nor suggest in some sort of sweeping way that all things Protestant are bad. Instead, when it is relevant, Rose gives Protestants credit where credit is due (e.g. "Protestants are seen today as great missionaries, and rightfully so, as thousands of Protestant Christians live as full-time missionaries..." pg 156).

Taken as a whole, Rose very clearly and succinctly presents a great number of very good arguments against Protestantism and for Catholicism. At a not-so-scary 150 pages long, If Protestantism Is True is a great book for Catholics wanting to be able to better understand and defend the Catholic faith in reference to Protestantism. Because of its polemical nature, the book would probably be most helpful for evangelicals who are already in the midst of investigations of the Catholic Church.

You can get a copy of If Protestantism Is True by Devin Rose at Amazon for a cheap $9.35, or $2.99 for the Kindle edition. Devin Rose also maintains the blog entitled 'St. Joseph's Vanguard'.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Holy Spirit Told Me To Change The Bible

After listing the new 66 book Protestant canon, the Gallic Confession (1559), co-authored by John Calvin states:
"We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the Church, as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books upon which, however useful, we can not found any articles of faith." (Article IV)

John Calvin, in his work Institutes of the Christian Religion, again gives the same argument:
"Profane men think that religion rests only on opinion, and, therefore, that they may not believe foolishly, or on slight grounds, desire and insist to have it proved by reason that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But I answer, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted." (ch 7, paragraph 3)

Prior to the Reformation, the 73 book Catholic biblical canon had been the undisputed biblical canon for over 1000 years. This new 66 book Protestant canon being defended by John Calvin had never existed before, never having been put forth by any individual or group in the 1500 years prior (even during the first three centuries of the Church during which the canon was a disputed matter). The 16th century self-appointed reformers literally removed books from the universally accepted Bible to create a brand new canon and then justified it by appealing to an "inward illumination of the Holy Spirit".

Would evangelicals accept someone doing the same thing today?

If an influential non-denominational mega-church decided to remove, let's say, the book of Esther from the Old Testament and began printing Bibles with a 65 book canon, and started saying that all those who had more than 65 books in their Bible had added them and were therefore heretics, evangelicals would rightly be in an uproar: 'How dare the the mega-church change the Bible!'

If the mega-church responded that they had made their decision "by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit", would any evangelical be satisfied by that response? Of course not. Evangelicals would probably brand the mega-church as heretical (as was the case in the recent Rob Bell scandal).

Evangelicals might counter that the Holy Spirit wasn't leading them to remove those books. But since there's not necessarily any reason to think that the mega-church is or is not being led by the Holy Spirit any better than other evangelicals, such a counter would be useless in settling the matter (remember, priesthood of all believers).

And since Esther isn't quoted as an authority by any other books of the Bible, there can be no appeal to the other Scriptures (even if it was quoted by another book, the mega-church could just respond that that book must not be canonical as well).

Evangelicals would only be left with an appeal to tradition (again, as with Rob Bell), but such an appeal wouldn't work too well: Esther's canonicity was frequently contested in the early church and only settled when the Catholic Church settled the canon at the end of the 4th century. But when the Catholic Church did that, she established the very 73 book canon that evangelicals themselves follow the Reformers in denying. In other words, evangelicals couldn't appeal to the Catholic Church's establishment of Esther as canonical without also accepting the Church's establishment of Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Sirach, Baruch, and Wisdom as canonical, as well as the Church's authority to settle the canon at all. Since they probably wouldn't do either of those things, evangelicals would be forced to appeal to the mere consensus among the Reformers in the 16th century (only 500 years ago, not very long in the history of Christianity) on the 66 book Protestant canon.

But even that wouldn't solve the problem. The mega-church could make an argument similar to the one made by the Reformers in the 16th century: 'We reject the authority of any church bodies or leaders. We don't follow tradition, councils, confessions, or even common consensus, but instead follow the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit which is leading us to our 65 book canon.'

They would have few options left, but I still doubt that many evangelicals would concede the issue.

If evangelicals today wouldn't allow someone to create a new Bible because they felt they were "illumined" to do so by the Holy Spirit, then evangelicals cannot go on using the 66 book Protestant canon that was created on the same grounds.*

*At least according to John Calvin, whom many evangelicals today follow and pattern themselves after