Tuesday, October 18, 2011

TrueStory: "Because I've never been invited," says Wheaton College professor

Billy Graham Center, home of Wheaton
College's Bible & Theology Dept
"Because I've never been invited."

The Wheaton College professor went on to explain that he was raised protestant and had simply always been protestant, and honestly did not have a good reason he wasn't Catholic.

During my Junior and Senior years at Wheaton College, I felt inspired to meet with professors or other evangelical Christian leaders who I thought would have an informed answer and ask them the question: "Why are you not Catholic?" I related another such story in my post TrueStory: Undercover Catholic.

I wanted to ask this particular professor my question because I had heard about a recent happening in one of his classes that had caught my attention: apparently, in a recent theology course he was teaching, a person asked a question wondering on what authority those who subscribe to sola scriptura have accepted their biblical canon, and he responded: "Did everyone hear that? He just pulled the whole rug out from under us." Unfortunately, it was at the end of class, and there wasn't time for further discussion.

I was struck by three things in his response to my question: that he didn't have a reason why he wasn't Catholic, the humility in his honest response, and his indictment of Catholics: he had never been invited to be Catholic.

As our conversation continued, the question of Church authority came up, and he explained that he accepted the early Church councils, such as Nicaea, and that he wanted to believe that they actually had authority, that they actually settled something.

"So if you accept Nicaea, why not Trent?" I asked.

He paused for a moment. "Good question. I don't really have a good reason. If I accept Nicaea, why don't I accept Trent?"

I was stunned, in the very least by his utter transparency to a student on these foundational issues. Now, he certainly was not just about to join the Catholic Church. But here was a Bible/Theology professor at the Harvard of evangelical schools, a place that does not allow Catholics on staff, admitting that his beliefs regarding the early Church councils seem to imply he should accept all of the Church's councils, including one that condemned basic Protestant doctrines.

Since he had said that he accepted Nicaea and other early councils, I asked what he made of the line in the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed: "I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church". He said that the word 'catholic' wasn't used as a proper name in the early church. I told him that actually it was and directed him on his computer to Augustine's Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, in which Augustine clearly speaks of the Catholic Church as a specific Church separate from other groups of people who call themselves Christians (see ch 4). He said he had never seen that before.

We shook hands and concluded our conversation.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How Catholics could fix Healthcare and Education (and save everyone's soul at the same time)

St Francis of Assisi
embracing a person
with leprosy
We all know it, at least from the news, but likely also from our own experience: healthcare and education are very expensive. This constitutes a very grave problem since access to good healthcare and a proper education are basic human rights that all people have because of their innate human dignity as created in the imago dei.

Since, then, the solution can't be to give fewer people healthcare or education, we're left with questions like: Are we paying teachers and doctors too much? Or not enough?

Many point out that it doesn't seem as though our education seem is very effective. Is the problem that we need better teachers? Or smaller classes?

All of these problems can be solved at the same time.

While everyone is looking for new ideas, the real solution is actually one that is very old. We Catholics are sitting on a major resource from our tradition that could make quality healthcare and education very affordable and available to all: monasticism.

Our world is in desperate need for a new army of young people with vows of celibacy, poverty, and stability to band together in communities, founded on prayer and devotion to Christ, for the service of others.

Just think: instead of paying 50 teachers' salaries, reduce salary costs to only what's needed for 50 people to live communally in voluntary poverty and simplicity. And with all of the savings let's double the number of teachers to 100 and cut class size in half. And since they are doing their work not for themselves, or even to support a family, but for God (in theory), they should be just as, if not much more, committed to their work. (St Paul points this out in 1 Cor 7.32-34.)

Sounds impossible? We already have the hospitals, schools, and monastic communities in place, along with centuries of experience of how to run monastic communities effectively. We even have a bunch of "super-star" monks and nuns whose lives new religious brothers and sisters can look to for inspiration (think St Francis of Assisi, St Katharine Drexel, Fr St Damien of Molokai, Bl Mother Teresa, etc). We just need the people.

Nun teaching in 1955
Of course, this idea is nothing new at all: religious brothers and sisters have been serving in hospitals and schools for centuries. And I don't mean to ignore those religious brothers and sisters who are currently faithfully serving in hospitals and schools. But with the recent decline in the number of people taking monastic vows, religious brothers and sisters have become so scarce in hospitals and schools here in the US as to be virtually absent. And of course, this decline is well known, and many are praying for more religious vocations.

But as we are praying and hopefully trying to raise our children to see the immense value in the monastic life, we should remember how absolutely urgent the need is for more religious brothers and sisters. For we are not only letting the world down temporally but spiritually: we are losing one the biggest means we have to witness to the saving Gospel of Jesus.

And as a great side benefit to all of this, a surge in religious vocations would also offer a much needed celibate witness to a world that is more and more obsessed with sex and convinced of its necessity to any happy, or even just healthy, human life.

The opportunity is right here before us. Healthcare and education are two of the biggest issues in our country today, with everyone groping around for some sort of solution. I pray that a new generation of young people would rise up and seize this enormous opportunity to bring Christ to this broken and needy world.

Monday, October 3, 2011

1500 years of universal Gospel-compromising heresy & idolatry...or not

The Last Supper
In the early 16th century, Protestant Huldrych Zwingli began to publicly deny the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Most modern evangelicals follow him in that same denial, instead holding that the Lord's Supper is only symbolic.

The Eucharistic faith of Catholics, on the other hand, came from Christ Himself through His Apostles in the 1st century. Since then, in unbroken succession, every generation has passed on belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and thus also the absolute centrality of the Eucharist to any truly Christian life. The evangelical belief that the Lord's Supper is only symbolic, with no sacramental aspect whatsoever, would have been decried by all generations of Christians from the very beginning as heresy.

If one holds the common evangelical position on the Lord's Supper (or, for that matter, the evangelical positions regarding apostolic succession, the nature and order of Christian worship, baptismal regeneration, etc), and that the evangelical position was the original doctrine taught by Christ and His Apostles, then that person must also hold that:

- the entire Church, following the deaths of the Apostles, immediately and publicly fell into universal heresy and idolatry at the center of their beliefs and practices

- this occurred in such a way so as to leave behind no evidence at all that any orthodox Christian had believed the true teaching of the Apostles immediately following their deaths in the most fundamental matters of doctrine and practice (unless you count gnostic heretics, and I don't think evangelicals would)

- this universal heresy persisted for a millennium and a half, such that virtually no would-be Christian lived their faith without centering it around idolatry; every would-be saint of the first 1500 years of the faith - St Irenaeus, St Augustine, St Francis of Assisi, St Catherine of Siena, etc - was actually an idolater

- the very same people who were so deluded into Eucharistic idolatry managed to hold true faith regarding the Trinity, dual-nature of Christ, etc, even amidst widespread, violent, centuries-long opposition and persecution

- this persisted until the 16th century Protestant Huldrych Zwingli finally broke free from 1500 years of deceit and got it right that there is no real presence in the Eucharist - and even then, amidst the opposition of fellow Protestant Martin Luther who still held to the real presence (albeit not transubstantiation)

- all of this occurred despite the fact that Jesus himself promised to be "with [us] always, to the very end of the age," (Mt 28.20) as well as that, since He would build His Church on the rock, "the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Mt 16.18)

- Christ's meaning in the above verses should be interpreted in a way that doesn't preclude the entire Church persisting in grave heresy and idolatry that fundamentally undermines the Gospel for the first millennium and a half following Christ

- finally, whatever forces that so successfully deceived the Church immediately following the Apostles and kept the entire Church in grave error and idolatry for the first 1500 years of the faith has been unable to seduce the evangelical community regarding the Eucharist again

I find all of the logical conclusions of the evangelical position listed above to be absurd.

But so what? So what if evangelicals are wrong on the Eucharist? They still put their faith in Jesus. Isn't that all that matters? Why does the Eucharist matter so much? Two short answers:
1) If the Eucharist truly is Jesus, then the Eucharist truly is Jesus, the God-man and source of all life. To reject the Eucharist, then, is a rejection of Jesus and the most profound way that He communes with His people. In John 6.53, Jesus states emphatically: "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."
2) If the doctrine of the real presence did come from Jesus, then it came from Jesus. It cannot be set aside or ignored. To do so would be to disregard the teachings of God Himself, something no true follower of Christ can do.

I've first listed a few of the most important relevant verses from Sacred Scripture, verses that have always been the basis for the Church's Eucharistic faith. Following those, I've listed in chronological order selected short quotes from throughout the history of the Church to show that the Catholic beliefs regarding the Eucharist have always been the faith of the Church. It is my hope that evangelicals, many of whom do indeed have a sincere faith in Jesus, will eventually come to see that they are following something novel, something of man, and that they will, with God's grace, return to the true faith of the Church of the last two millennia.

For what exactly the Church today teaches regarding the Eucharist in Her own words, turn to paragraphs 1322ff in the Catechist of the Catholic Church.

Christ distributing the Eucharist at the
Last Supper
Sacred Scripture
Matthew 26.26-28 (see also Mark 14.22-24Luke 22.17-20, & 1 Cor 11.23-26)
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

John 6.51-56
[Jesus said,] "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him."

1 Corinthians 10.16-17
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

1 Corinthians 11.27-29
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Christian Witness
St Ignatius of Antioch, bishop of Antioch, martyr
Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6-7, ~A.D. 110:
Let no man deceive himself. ...[I]f they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. [...] But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. [...] They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes.

St Justin the Martyr, philosopher, martyr
First Apology, 66, ~A.D. 150:
And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

St Irenaeus
St Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon, France), martyr
Against Heresies, ~A.D. 180:
But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity. (IV.18.5)

When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him? (V.2.3)

St Cyprian of Carthage, bishop of Carthage, martyr
On the Lapsed, 25, 3rd century:
Learn what occurred when I myself was present and a witness some parents who by chance were escaping [persecution], being little careful on account of their terror, left a little daughter under the care of a wet-nurse. The nurse gave up the forsaken child to the magistrates. They gave it, in the presence of an idol whither the people flocked (because it was not yet able to eat flesh on account of its years), bread mingled with wine, which however itself was the remainder of what had been used in the immolation of those that had perished. Subsequently the mother recovered her child. But the girl was no more able to speak, or to indicate the crime that had been committed, than she had before been able to understand or to prevent it. Therefore it happened unawares in their ignorance, that when we were sacrificing, the mother brought it in with her. Moreover, the girl mingled with the saints, became impatient of our prayer and supplications, and was at one moment shaken with weeping, and at another tossed about like a wave of the sea by the violent excitement of her mind; as if by the compulsion of a torturer the soul of that still tender child confessed a consciousness of the fact with such signs as it could. When, however, the solemnities were finished, and the deacon began to offer the cup to those present, and when, as the rest received it, its turn approached, the little child, by the instinct of the divine majesty, turned away its face, compressed its mouth with resisting lips, and refused the cup. Still the deacon persisted, and, although against her efforts, forced on her some of the sacrament of the cup. Then there followed a sobbing and vomiting. In a profane body and mouth the Eucharist could not remain; the draught sanctified in the blood of the Lord burst forth from the polluted stomach. So great is the Lord's power, so great is His majesty. The secrets of darkness were disclosed under His light, and not even hidden crimes deceived God's priest.

St Hippolytus of Rome, martyr
Apostolic Tradition, 37-38, 3rd century:
Having blessed the cup in the Name of God, you received it as the antitype of the Blood of Christ. Therefore do not spill from it, for some foreign spirit to lick it up because you despised it. You will become as one who scorns the Blood, the price with which you have been bought.

St Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop of Jerusalem, doctor of the Church, confessor
Catechetical Lecture 22, 1-2, 6, 4th century:
Since then [Jesus] Himself declared and said of the Bread, This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has Himself affirmed and said, This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood? [...] Consider therefore the Bread and the Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord's declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests this to you, yet let faith establish you. Judge not the matter from the taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the Body and Blood of Christ have been vouchsafed to you.

St Augustine of Hippo
St Augustine, bishop of Hippo, doctor of the Church, confessor
Sermons 272, 4th-5th century:
What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction

Council of Ephesus, A.D. 431
Third Letter of Cyril to Nestorius:
Proclaiming the death according to the flesh of the only begotten Son of God, that is Jesus Christ, and professing his return to life from the dead and his ascension into heaven, we offer the unbloody worship in the churches and so proceed to the mystical thanksgivings and are sanctified having partaken of the holy flesh and precious blood of Christ, the saviour of us all. This we receive not as ordinary flesh, heaven forbid, nor as that of a man who has been made holy and joined to the Word by union of honour, or who had a divine indwelling, but as truly the life-giving and real flesh of the Word. For being life by nature as God, when he became one with his own flesh, he made it also to be life-giving, as also he said to us: "Amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood". For we must not think that it is the flesh of a man like us (for how can the flesh of man be life-giving by its own nature?), but as being made the true flesh of the one who for our sake became the son of man and was called so.

Pope St Gregory VII
Required confession of faith (as quoted in Mysterium Fidei, 52), 11th century:
I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine that are placed on the altar are, through the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and proper and lifegiving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration they are the true body of Christ—which was born of the Virgin and which hung on the Cross as an offering for the salvation of the world—and the true blood of Christ—which flowed from His side—and not just as a sign and by reason of the power of the sacrament, but in the very truth and reality of their substance and in what is proper to their nature.

4th Lateran Council, 1215
Confession of Faith:
[Jesus'] body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread and wine having been changed in substance, by God's power, into his body and blood, so that in order to achieve this mystery of unity we receive from God what he received from us. Nobody can effect this sacrament except a priest who has been properly ordained according to the church's keys, which Jesus Christ himself gave to the apostles and their successors.

St Francis of Assisi, confessor, founder of the Order of Friars Minor
Letter to All the Friars, early 13th century:
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.

St Thomas Aquinas, priest, Dominican monk, doctor of the Church
attributed to him, 13th century:
The Sacrament of the Body of the Lord puts the demons to flight, defends us against the incentives to vice and to concupiscence, cleanses the soul from sin, quiets the anger of God, enlightens the understanding to know God, inflames the will and the affections with the love of God, fills the memory with spiritual sweetness, confirms the entire man in good, frees us from eternal death, multiplies the merits of a good life, leads us to our everlasting home, and re-animates the body to eternal life.

St Catherine of Siena, of whom it is said
that she lived 19 years with no food but
the Eucharist
St Catherine of Siena, doctor of the church, virgin
a prayer attributed to her, 14th century:
O inestimable charity! Even as You, true God and true Man, gave Yourself entirely to us, so also You left Yourself entirely for us, to be our food, so that during our earthly pilgrimage we would not faint with weariness, but would be strengthened by You, our celestial Bread. O man, what has your God left you? He has left you Himself, wholly God and wholly Man, concealed under the whiteness of bread. O fire of love! Was it not enough for You to have created us to Your image and likeness, and to have recreated us in grace through the Blood of Your Son, without giving Yourself wholly to us as our Food, O God, Divine Essence? What impelled You to do this? Your charity alone. It was not enough for You to send Your Word to us for our redemption; neither were You content to give Him us as our Food, but in the excess of Your love for Your creature, You gave to man the whole divine essence.

Council of Trent, 1545-1563
Session 13, Ch 1, 1551:
In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things. ...[F]or thus all our forefathers, as many as were in the true Church of Christ, who have treated of this most holy Sacrament, have most openly professed, that our Redeemer instituted this so admirable a sacrament at the last supper, when, after the blessing of the bread and wine, He testified, in express and clear words, that He gave them His own very Body, and His own Blood...

St Francis de Sales, bishop of Geneva, doctor of the Church, confessor
Introduction to the Devout Life, XIV.1, early 17th century:
[T]he Sun of all spiritual exercises, even the most holy, sacred and Sovereign Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist, [is] the very centre point of our Christian religion, the heart of all devotion, the soul of piety;—that Ineffable Mystery which embraces the whole depth of Divine Love, by which God, giving Himself really to us, conveys all His Graces and favours to men with royal magnificence.

1st Vatican Council, 1870
Profession of Faith:
Pope Bl John Paul II
I profess that in the mass there is offered to God a true, proper and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist there is truly, really and substantially the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our lord Jesus Christ; and that there takes place the conversion of the whole substance of the bread into his body, and of the whole substance of the wine into his blood, and this conversion the catholic church calls transubstantiation.

Pope Bl John Paul II
We Adore God Present Among Us, 1993:
United with the angels and saints of the heavenly Church, let us adore the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. Prostrate, we adore this great mystery that contains God's new and definitive covenant with humankind in Christ.