The Crucifixion of St. Peter, etching, 1685 by Jan Luyken

Κύριε, ἐλέησον
Χριστέ, ἐλέησον

There are so many reasons why a Protestant would consider becoming an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I nearly did myself. My own journey into the Catholic Church included searching in various directions, but mostly in the direction of history and mystery, which led me to Orthodoxy, but also in the direction of authority and unity, which finally led to Catholicism.

I am no theologian or Church historian. My mind works more like a poet than a philosopher. I am not a logician nor am I a stickler for the minutiae of dogmatic disputes. Nonetheless, Truth (capital T truth) is important to me. And loving Christ, obeying His commandments, seeking holiness and perfection and theosis is everything to me — all things I am sorely bad at doing. My journey, and the decisions I have made along the way, are not criticisms of dear friends who have made different decisions. The best I can do is try to reasonably do my homework, be as humble as I can, and trust God. I believe I am right, or I wouldn’t believe what I believe, but I also know how easy it is to be wrong. And so I humbly offer here my reasons for becoming Catholic rather than Orthodox. I do not claim wisdom, only that by God’s grace did I find the true Church.

I’ve written many posts on this blog about my journey. You can find them by searching some of the topics and tags on the sidebar. One described my visiting a local Orthodox church; a visit that truly inspired me and moved my heart. I have friends that are members at that church. I also found the writings of some Eastern Orthodox authors amazing, especially those of Alexander Schmemann, and especially his book “For the Life of the World.” And I wrote about my struggles with Protestantism and my seeking something far more rooted in tradition than the anemic Evangelical culture I experienced. Finally, being a bit of a cinephile, my favorite filmmaker is the late Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, an artist deeply influenced by the Christian faith of Russia Orthodoxy. His aesthetic and artistic philosophy comes from that faith, it resonates deeply in my soul. Consequently, I was drawn very much to the Orthodox Church.

Eastern Orthodoxy offers a powerful antidote to some of our western culture’s religious ills. But, in the end, I could not make the leap. I had, instead, to first deal with Catholicism head-on. I realized that a key attraction of Orthodoxy for me was that I could get an ancient liturgy, the Church fathers, all the smells and bells, icons, mystery, penance, history, and on and on, and I could still fundamentally be Protestant. In other words, I could get most everything I was seeking (or thought I was seeking) without having to submit to the Pope. I had to confront this and find out what the Catholic Church taught, and if it was the better choice than Eastern Orthodoxy.

I was raised within and formed by a very anti-Catholic culture. I had a lot of fears of even getting slightly close to Catholicism. But I also realized that every negative thing I ever heard about the Church came from enemies of the Church. How would I feel if someone refused to give me a chance to defend myself against slander, claiming they already heard everything they needed to hear from my enemies? I felt convicted that I was being unfair. Even more so, I came to see that the final step was not the logic of an argument, rather it was the attitude of my heart. I began to see that I first must submit to God in all humility before I could sort through the various claims. In short, I realized the fundamental issue, the very crux itself, was whether I was willing to submit or whether I was going to continue to demand my own authority. The last thing I wanted to do was to continue to define and demarcate my faith, based on my own authority, as disunity with other Christians. I needed something transcending my own person to hold me accountable. I also realized I was no longer “protesting,” and therefore I found it absurd to be a Protestant. Rather, I had to turn to God and ask Him to lead me, even in a direction that scared me. My will, not my rationality, was the problem — a problem of the heart forged within me by the Protestant (and American) culture that made me.

In the end, the Catholic Church won me over. In fact, I believe it was God, through Mary, who led me to the Church in spite of my many worries, fears, and struggles. I am not an apologist. As I stated earlier, I am no theologian or logician. I’m a relatively bright guy, but my reasons for becoming Catholic are probably more poetic than apologetic. Catholicism began to form a kind of song in my soul, a resonance that called me home. The question I had to answer was if I willing to hear that tune and follow it. But I had to be clear to myself why I could not settle for Eastern Orthodoxy when it offered so much of what I was looking for, and when so many of my friends found a home there.

Following are some of my reasons. Needless to say, these are very personal reasons. I say this because I know each of us is on a journey and the big decisions we make in life, though often of a universal nature (Truth, Faith, Religion, etc.), are also uniquely played in each of our lives. Therefore, I can only speak for myself and not for anyone else.

In Protestantism, there is no true authority. As anyone who has taken a critical look at Protestantism knows, Sola Scriptura can only, finally, mean that an individual’s opinion is authoritative, which of course it is not. Every Protestant pastor establishes himself or herself as the authority, offering their interpretations and “applications” of scripture, and church members shop churches like consumers search for restaurants — some search for cheap drive-throughs and others for fine dining, but they all are merely searching according to their preferred tastes and immediate interests. Christianity in America, and much of the world, has become a kind of marketplace complete with producers and consumer, sellers and buyers. It’s a free market economy driven by marketing and business plans. But the Catholic Church has the magisterium, with its Pope and Bishops, handing on and defending the faith. Because it is a hierarchy based on a monarchy it demands submission to its authority which it claims is given by Christ our King. The Catholic argument for the primacy of Peter makes a great deal of sense to me, especially since it seems so clearly based on scripture. Doesn’t the Catholic Church’s interpretation of those scriptures, elevating Peter to the position of primacy, seem best? Individual Catholic churches will have small differences, and many bishops argue with each other over various topics, but they are all in communion with Rome. Every aspect of this is radically foreign to the Protestant’s heart and mind. Both Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism hold to Holy Scripture and Tradition as the sources of Truth and Revelation, but Eastern Orthodoxy, while demanding more authority for itself than any Protestant church, has no true living magisterium, or teaching authority that can supersede and arbitrate between reasonable but different positions on faith and morals, and continue to do so as history unfolds itself. Only the Catholic Church has the living magisterium. Any former Protestant will certainly experience a stronger sense of institutional authority within Eastern Orthodoxy than he did within Protestantism. And that might feel like more than enough; I’m sure for many that was already a tough pill to swallow and I don’t want to downplay that experience. Eastern Orthodoxy certainly has more substantive guardrails than the local Bible church on the corner, but the Orthodox Church is still, at best, a loosely unified church, and at worst a church falsely claiming unity, and perhaps self-deceived in that regard. This is the problem with not having a living magisterium. I came to realize that the question of authority was a huge issue for me personally; bigger than I ever imagined. God was calling me to submit to the authority of His Church on earth. Eastern Orthodoxy was attractive to me precisely because I wouldn’t have to submit in such a total way, perhaps not unless I wanted to become a deacon(?), but even then it would only be submission on a local and/or ethnic/national church level; just another particular church, not the universal Church. I could continue to avoid the pope. Some might take issue with this position, but it seemed clear to me then, and it seems clear to me now that there is no final source of authority in Eastern Orthodoxy, merely submission to one of the self-headed churches and their traditions and interpretations of scripture (however unified they can seem to someone from Protestantland).

To sum this up, because I realize I could be misrepresenting the Eastern Orthodox view (perhaps challenging its self-view) of authority, the real crux of the issue for me was my pride. I was wrapped up in my pride and the Catholic Church more than the Orthodox church confronted me on my pride. I need to be radically humbled and the Catholic Church does that for me. This fact I took as a key piece of evidence.

The question of authority, as stated above, is inextricably linked with unity. Although some try to claim that Eastern Orthodoxy is unified, it is not. In fact, it is quite fragmented and has been for centuries. Eastern Orthodoxy has divided along numerous ethnic and nationalistic lines; different but also similar to Protestant denominations. In my own town, I was faced with whether I would join the local Serbian Orthodox church or the local Greek Orthodox church. They are different churches, not merely different parishes. As a Protestant, I was used to having such decisions before me, but my soul was longing for something else. As a Protestant, Eastern Orthodoxy offered more unity (or seemed to) than I was familiar with, and therefore it attracted me, but in the end I wanted even greater unity. I couldn’t settle for partial unity. I didn’t believe the Holy Spirit would abandon the body of Christ to so much disunity for so long on such a scale. (Of course, I could be terribly wrong.) I didn’t want to sort through the battles between Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox. I didn’t want to accept the αὐτοκεφαλία of a hydra-headed animal as a work of the Holy Spirit. I realized that Protestantism had trained me to accept disunity as a “natural” way of the Church, and I absolutely wanted no part of it. I felt the need to flee from disunity. Perhaps I was oversensitive, but I wanted a Church that could contain various rites and expressions of the faith, but was still in total unity with itself, transcending and judging national and ethnic boundaries, structurally bound together by a visible Vicar of Christ. I just found Eastern Orthodoxy far less unified than some try to present it (see the video below for more details). Of course, Catholicism has a lot of issues, a ton of internal squabbles, and many Catholics do not get along, but we are in communion nonetheless. We share in the table of our Lord, in His body and blood, and in our shared creed and dogmas regardless of the many other ways we can find ourselves struggling to be in unity. I also realized that most Catholic liturgical rites are, in fact, much like, or even exactly like those of the Eastern Orthodox churches. If I wanted, I could go to a church not too far away, pastored by a friend of mine, that uses the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It is an Eastern Rite Catholic church in full communion with the Pope. It’s possible to have something quite “eastern” within the Catholic Church if that’s one’s preference.

Although many Catholics today, including many churchmen, take a very lax view of divorce, remarriage, and receiving Holy Communion while in a state of grave sin, the Catholic Church does, in fact, officially teach that divorce and remarriage is forbidden, and that receiving Holy Communion in such a state is a mortal sin. The Orthodox Church, however, officially has a less strict position. It’s not uncommon to say the Orthodox Church blesses the first marriage, performs the second, tolerates the third, and forbids the fourth. I have come to believe this position contradicts the direct teaching of Christ. I do not mean to speak lightly of the real struggles many couples have in marriage, but I believe the official position of the Catholic Church is far superior to that of the Eastern Orthodox; it is, in fact, orthodox while the Orthodox position is not. In fact, there are even different positions within Easter Orthodoxy given the lack of magisterial unity. But marriage may just be the defining issue of our age. Attacking marriage and the priesthood have become, I am convinced, the number one targets in the overall game plan of the Evil One to destroy the Church. Marriage was instituted by God as the means by which He educates mankind about His relationship with us. Marriage is fundamental to the story of salvation. God is the ultimate educator and marriage is His great analogical example for us. In this light, it is the Catholic Church that has the best chance to be the bulwark against these attacks of the Devil. There are many faithful Christians within the various branches of Eastern Orthodoxy, but institutionally it is the Catholic Church that is the primary instrument on earth in Christ’s hands to do battle against the principalities of darkness and evil. It is also the one institution most clearly under attack on every front, including from within. This alone should be a testament to the primacy of the Catholic Church, and was one of the clear and visible signs that finally drew me through its doors.

Authority, unity, and the profound issue of divorce and remarriage stand as primary touchstones for why I didn’t jump into Eastern Orthodoxy. But there are other reasons. The Catholic Church is truly catholic and global, it is also western in western countries. I am a child of so-called western culture. There is a fascinating and mysterious element to Eastern Orthodoxy that I find attractive because of its foreignness. But there is a kind of false fit with who I am. I felt my curiosity with Eastern Orthodoxy was due, in large part, because it felt extra mysterious to this west-coast white-toast American, and thus it felt radically non-Protestant. That attracted me, but I needed more substance than feelings. The Catholic Church has been more readily able to culturally adapt as it has spread around the world than Eastern Orthodoxy. This means I can be in unity with Catholics around the world, sharing in the same liturgy with them any day of the week, and yet find an appropriate cultural fit between the cult and the culture in which God placed me, and they with theirs.

Also, the Catholic Church more fully and properly venerates the Mother of our Lord. Mary has become an increasingly important person in my faith, drawing me closer to her Son. Eastern Orthodoxy tends to see Catholics as taking this devotion too far. I disagree. Catholic teaching on Mary is the clearest, most biblical, and most meaningful to the lives of the faithful than any other teaching.

Another issue that seems to come up is the filioque. This is a theological and historical issue having to do with the creed, and it’s easy to find overviews of the issue online if you’re curious. In looking into it for myself, I found it not only thin in substance but it strikes me as a rather cheap excuse for any Eastern Orthodox Christian to cling to as a reason for not becoming Catholic.

And then I found interesting that whenever people think of the “Church” they think of Catholicism. If our society has issues with Christianity, with its positions on marriage, sexuality, gender, etc, it always looks to the Catholic Church to see what it says. Our world so desperately wants the Catholic Church to change its positions on nearly every dogma and doctrine. For the most part, our society doesn’t care about what the Eastern Orthodox think, on any topic really. And few Protestants care all that much if another of their fold converts to Eastern Orthodoxy, perhaps they slightly tilt their head in confusion, but they practically foam at the mouth if that conversion is to Catholicism. This says a lot, strongly implying that in the grand design, and deep within the hearts of even the most unrepentant men, it is the Catholic Church that stands as the visible body of Christ in the world, even to those who deny every one of its claims, and the world knows it has to deal with that. If they hated Christ first, they will hate His followers even more, and they hate the Catholic Church more than any other institution on earth.

Finally, if I am honest, I did not choose the Catholic Church. Rather, and not to be trite, but it chose me. I was called, impelled, and even compelled into it. If I had chosen Eastern Orthodoxy I would have been merely fleeing Protestantism. I no longer wanted to be a heretic. Yes, I wanted a truly apostolic Church, and I do see the Eastern Orthodox churches descending from the apostolic tradition, but this longing within me wouldn’t let me settle for second best. In the end, my choice was no choice but to become Catholic. And continuing in honesty, it has not been easy. The Catholic Church is filled with sinners (me included) and has been ravaged by modernism, wicked bishops, unfaithful priests, sexual abuse and institutional coverups, financial corruption, rank idiocy, and numerous devious attacks by the Evil One, but this has only convinced me that the Catholic Church is the true body of Christ, for these hard facts merely confirm her core teachings through and through. We are truly sinners in need of a savior. We are a wayward bride continually being called back from harlotry to the all-loving bridegroom. More than any other church, and more than any institution on earth, the Catholic Church relentlessly experiences the most persecution from without as well as from within. This can only come from the Devil who wants to destroy the Church. And only this level of attack, combined with the Church’s resilient survival, could be part of God’s ultimate plan of salvation, presented to us in the prophetic words of scripture and the words of Our Lady. The Catholic Church is both the earthly means of our salvation and stands as the greatest visible example of why we so desperately need salvation from our sin, the world, and the Devil.

Do all these reasons for why I personally chose the Catholic Church over Eastern Orthodoxy mean all Eastern Orthodox Christians are wrong? I can’t say. Or I don’t want to say. I’m sure some are wrong, but perhaps not all. Each person’s journey is different, and where God has them is His prerogative. For many converts it was a huge personal decision to leave Protestantism and enter the Orthodox Church. I certainly do not doubt their faith. I would just say to former Protestants who made the big move to Orthodoxy that you might want to consider if you have truly moved far enough. Could it be that you changed the form without actually changing some core Protestant positions? Did you get history and mystery but are avoiding authority? Are you holding on to a desire for your own authority and wanting, perhaps subconsciously, to retain the “right” to your own biblical interpretations? Was the move to Orthodoxy the easier choice than Catholicism? If yes, why? Are you still clinging to your own authority, or perhaps to more of an aesthetic change, or now you don’t want to give up your community, or could it be you’re still basing your decision on that funny inner feeling so common to Protestants? I am not judging but seriously asking because all these reasons I had to wrestle with myself. And I realize any kind of change, especially this kind of change, is extremely difficult, complex, and fraught with all sorts of issues.

And I ask for forgiveness if I have misrepresented the Orthodox Church. I do realize there is far more complexity than I am able or willing to deal with in this post. Although, at this point in my own journey of faith, I have no interest in arguing about it. I’ll leave that to others. I am working too hard, and failing too often, at just becoming a good Catholic.

May God bless you.

Lastly, this post was sparked, in part, by this video below. It’s well worth taking the time to listen.

 

Michael_Davies
Michael Davies

Though not without his critics even among traditionalist Catholics, Michael Davies is one of the giants of the traditionalist movement. He was both prolific and masterful in conveying the key issues at stake for the Church in the 20th century and up to our own day. He brought a tireless passion to his studies on what many have described as the debacle of the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass. He was a tireless crusader for traditional orthodoxy and right worship. He also brought a “punchy” straightforwardness to his delivery that I find refreshing in a Church that so often talks in loquacious circles and cautious euphemisms. He passed away in 2004.

Here is an excellent four-part lecture series by Davies on the machinations and troubling influences that were at play during the council:

I realize that the council was such a behemoth undertaking, and so complex, that any one perspective, even one as in-depth as Davies’ is, is bound to miss a lot. Regardless, if much of what Davies says is true, and I have no reason to doubt the content of any of his lectures, then what a profoundly troubling council.

This lecture is worth the entire two and half hours. And it is a packed two and a half hours. Every bishop should watch it. Every priest too. It is profound and filled with riches to ponder and meditate upon. It is also filled with many challenges. Share it with others. Discuss it.

I am not a conspiracy nut, nor am I a staunch traditionalist, nor am I prone to sectarianism or division, etc, etc, but…

Given the connection between the message of Fatima and the Mass, and given a number of connections and observations Mr. Rodríguez makes, it makes sense that the third secret of Fatima has not been fully revealed. It seems rather clear that the message is very likely a direct challenge to the spirit of Vatican II and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass. And given that the third secret was to be revealed in 1960 and wasn’t, and also by that time the pope and other key individuals in the Church were intent on changing the Mass and bringing about a glorious revolution, no one in leadership (including popes St. John XXIII, B. Paul VI, John Paul I, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis) has wanted to open that can of worms — whether to cancel the council, or redirect its purpose, or not promulgate a new rite of the Mass, or call all of it into question after the fact. Perhaps they would all feel (or have felt) like they would need to officially abandon the Novus Ordo Mass altogether and they just can’t handle admitting that Vatican II was not the work of the Holy Spirit but of man alone. If this is true, then certainly what we have seen in the Church over the past fifty years are the profound and terrible results of God’s judgement — the list of troubles is staggering. Of course, I cannot say all this is true for I know almost nothing about it, but I wonder, I really wonder. Certainly it is deeply sobering to consider. (And the only “arguments” against this that I’ve come across consists of eye rolling. Thin arguments indeed.)

I worry that a great many cardinals, bishops, priests, and perhaps some popes, from the last half century or more, will end up in Hell because of the destruction they have brought about.

What?!

the-inferno-canto-19

Am I way off? Is Mr. Rodríguez wrong? What am I missing?

gate

I regularly get chills from certain passages in the Bible. This is one of them:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7: 13-14)

I often believe, with not a little worry, that while I ascent to Christ’s teaching and to the narrow gate metaphor I am, in truth, on the wide path to destruction. I also look around me and I am convinced the Church is filled mostly with people who are not on the narrow path, are not getting through the narrow gate and, in fact, have decided the narrow gate either does not apply to them, or that the wide gate is, in actuality, the narrow gate.

In fact, it seems there is a “the wide gate is the way to go” attitude in much of popular Christianity. It goes under the name of tolerance = love = “see how loving I am.” It is so easy for us to feel self-righteous and not see it.

In fact, I do not believe modern American  Christianity embraces the narrow gate. I believe the Church in the west has largely rejected the narrow gate. I believe our affluence and our love of modernism has encouraged us to believe the narrow gate does not apply anymore. This is really serious.

We have adopted what I call the “funny inner feeling” form of Christianity. I am not the first person to use that phrase. It arises from a distinctively Protestant form of Christianity naturally and inevitably born out of the sola fide mindset, but embraced by Catholics too, especially in the post-Vatican II world. Just like our modern concept of love, we are given over to a emotional definition of faith. With this feeling in place we can do all kinds of things, such as

  1. be spiritual but not religious
  2. presume ourselves forgiven
  3. presume ourselves saved
  4. believe we are no longer called to be martyrs
  5. believe holiness is merely a “lifestyle” of no eternal consequence
  6. choose our own forms of worship
  7. conjure more feelings of faith for a spiritual high
  8. denigrate piety as old fashioned
  9. denigrate traditions as being only for “rigid” people
  10. denigrate “works”
  11. denigrate Christendom
  12. promote “bumper-sticker” forms of encouragement
  13. ignore the sacraments

…and the list goes on and on.

But Christ will separate Christian from Christian. Some will go into glory forever with Him. And others will go to eternal destruction and fire. Does that not scare you? It does me. Dante was right to place some popes, bishops, priests, and religious in Hell. Will you and I be in Hell too? Or will we choose the narrow gate?

Verses like the ones above challenge me. I hope they challenge you too. Let us pray for each other. God is good and trustworthy.

Worshiping-the-Real-Presence

When I was a Protestant I didn’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (I didn’t even know that was an option), and I also believed the Church very quickly became corrupted after the apostles died. That’s why I “knew” our Baptist church was Christian and Catholics were probably going to Hell — nearly two thousand years of corruption until we Baptists came along finally with the true faith of the apostles. In other words, the Eucharist (we called it communion because Eucharist was too “Catholic”) was only a symbol and, of course, any authentic Christian church had to look like the church of the first generation of Christians (whatever we imagined that to be) if it looked like anything at all. I now know this is a lot of foolish bunk, but still popular in many Protestant circles — although those circles seem to be getting smaller and smaller.

One important piece of evidence for a Church of continuity through the ages is the simple fact that a mere few years beyond the first apostles others made statements about the Eucharist that confirm the Catholic teaching, and those others, lo and behold, where connected directly with the apostles. In other words, the Catholic understand of the Eucharist came directly from the apostles, who got it directly from our Lord.

First some quotes. Consider also the names of the authors and the dates:

On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: “In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations.” (Didache, c. 90)

For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus. (St. Justin Martyr, c. 100)

They [Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. 110)

[Christ] has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own Blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own Body, from which he gives increase to our bodies. (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 140)

The Word is everything to a child: both Father and Mother, both Instructor and Nurse. “Eat My Flesh,” He says, “and drink My Blood.” The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients. He delivers over His Flesh, and pours out His Blood; and nothing is lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery! (St. Clement of Alexandria, c. 150)

Now consider this handy flowchart* I made:

Early Church Fathers.001

Notice the relationships, see the connections.

Now consider Christ’s words: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) Even Hell will not prevail.

It seems to me that the Church has always been a Church of sinners, of struggles, of setbacks, of divisions, but also of healing, reconciliation, and of saints. It has also been a Church of the Eucharist. To think the Church got off course as soon as the apostles died is truly silly. To think the Catholic concept of the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a made-up doctrine that came centuries later is also silly.

“To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” (Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman)


*FYI: if I redo this chart I would make the lines between Paul, Peter, and John dotted, or something other than solid lines.

William F. Buckley Jr. was a faithful Catholic who preferred the Traditional Latin Mass and did not like the changes brought about by Vatican II or, perhaps more appropriately, the abuses in the name of Vatican II. In 1980 he devoted an episode of his television program Firing Line to discussing these changes, as well as the censure of theologian Hans Kung which had just happened.

On the show his guests were Msgr. Joseph Champlin, Michael Davies, and Malachi Martin. Fr. Champlin was a prolific author and vocal advocate of the new Mass, and a more liberal approach to Catholicism. Michael Davies was also a prolific writer and defender of the old Mass, warrior against the new Mass, and apologist of traditional Catholicism and those who continued to practice it, including Archbishop Lefebvre. Malachi Martin was also a prolific author, former Jesuit, advocate of the old Mass, frequent critic of the Church, television personality of sorts and, some would say, showman to a fault.

Here is the program:

I do not think this is one of Firing Line’s best episodes. Though the topic is of great interest to me, the guests are interesting, and the fact it stands as a kind of time capsule, nonetheless it lacks focus. On the one hand, the topic is just too big for an hour of television. On the other this is more like “inside baseball,” which, in fact, it needs to be but also suffers from. I wondered at times if the audience was bored stiff, thoroughly confused, or both.

Quick takes on each participant:

WFB: Always erudite, but his arguments remain more on the surface, expressing his personal proclivities and, I’m sure unintentionally, providing an excuse for viewers to assume he represents the old guard of stuffy Catholicism afraid of the new and exciting world of modernity and a more youth-oriented Church. And when he pushed on certain topics his interlocutors merely went their own way.

Fr. Champlin: My immediate response was negative. He seemed to represent exactly the kind of wimpy sentimentalist evasive liberal priests that turned the Church away from a cross-carrying, suffering servant, heroic virtue loving, proud-to-be Catholics, and hopeful to be martyrs Catholicism. Of course these are all stereotypes and we should be careful. Nonetheless, my inclinations are probably basically true. In light of a particular section of this program it is worth noting this observation about Fr. Champlin:

He is remembered in his own diocese of Syracuse (where he has served as Vicar of parish life and worship) for his fervent promotion and encouragement of Communion in the hand (when the practice was unlawful in the U.S.), thereby adding to the spirit of disobedience in which that practice was cultivated. He was also prominent in defending an aberrant policy of “Eucharistic hospitality” in the Diocese of Syracuse (which, in effect, permitted Protestants to receive Holy Communion in clear defiance of the restrictions contained in Vatican directives.) [From here.]

He also was wishy-washy on contraception in his popular book on marriage, “Together for Life.”

I must say, however, that clearly Fr. Champlin was “ganged up on” a bit. He was obviously (perhaps by design?) the only advocate of the new Mass, surround by three passionate and articulate advocates of the old. I think he did an excellent job of maintaining his composure and articulating his position.

Mr. Davies: He comes across a bit like a crusader, and his emotions nearly get the better of him several times. However, of all the participants he is the one I find most compelling. Like him I was a Baptist who converted to the Church. Like him I also have some Welsh blood in me, but not the Welsh culture or accent (actually his accent is from Somerset) . At times he seems ready to explode with information, which makes sense given his life’s undertaking of studying these things (and perhaps his passionate spirit). In short, compared with the others, only his arguments were actually compelling as arguments, though he did not have time to articulate them given the nature of television and the format of the show. He also kept his composure, and I hope he was able to pique the curiosity of many viewers to consider his views and his books.

Mr. (or is it Fr.?) Martin: Always entertaining, Mr. Martin loved the sound of his own voice. He seemed to be making an attempt to turn to show towards himself. I did not feel he contributed substantially to the discussion and, in fact, was a distraction. However, I do believe with a different format, for example a two hour discussion that was allowed the guests to ramble a bit more, and where he sat down with the others as a members of the group, he might have fit within the program better. Still, I never know how far to trust him.

Christian Zionism is ugly.

I find it interesting and rather amazing at just how much I was indoctrinated into the Christian Zionism heresy. It is a fundamental belief in the church in which I was raised, and later in a group of Christians with whom I fellowshipped. Christian Zionism is one of those easy heresies to latch on to. It just sounds right if one believes other heresies, like sola scriptura or dispensationalism. Brother André Marie gives two excellent talks on the subject of Christian Zionism, and shows clearly why it is a heresy condemned by the Church, and popular with many Protestants (and some Catholics), and what its implications are.

pope-francis

I love Pope Francis.

I am not talking about the warm fuzzies or the swooning that seems to follow him everywhere. There has been an awful lot of swooning. I’m not sure swooning over any pope is entirely healthy anyway. And I hope I am not inclined to illusions or delusions. I see him as a man with limitations and passions. I cannot say I agree with him on every little thing. And he and I certainly we will not share many opinions on any number of topics. But he is my Pope. And I love him.

Why do I write this? As someone who is gradually learning and appreciating the Traditional Latin Mass, I come across a lot of negative attitudes about Pope Francis. I find many of these attitudes on “traditional” Catholic websites and social media. Some would say the Holy Father is merely good at making a show of good works, but that there is no substance behind the show. Some would say he is unorthodox in his beliefs, which is to say not fully Catholic. Others condemn him for decisions he has made and signals he has sent. And even some say he is actually mean and manipulative, one daring to call him a dictator. Then, of course, there are the sedevacantists who don’t call him pope at all.

The thing is I get that. I see what others are seeing. I understand their arguments. I too am not always happy, and sometimes I am very troubled. I worry about the Pope’s agenda, and about some of those with whom he surrounds himself. I am convinced the Vatican is a hotbed of political maneuvering entirely unbecoming of churchmen. And I definitely have issues with what seems to be clear and strong (strong-armed some would say) movements in unhealthy directions regarding the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, movements that seem encouraged by the Pope. Could the Pope be undermining the Church in some way? For how crazy this may sound, he just might be.

I am not uncritical.

But I also know or am convinced of several things:

  1. Pope Francis loves God. This does not mean he is all wise, nor that he always acts correctly or makes the right decisions. And I do not mean he is not prone to vices. But loving God is huge. This is where it all begins. I believe I love God too, and I ask for prayers that my love is and remains true.
  2. He is a sinner. He even says so, and he goes to confession, and asks for our prayers. Do you pray for him every day? I try too, and often fail, but I know I should.
  3. Is he of another generation and culture with different views than I have? Certainly. His experiences are fundamentally different than mine. I have come to believe that human beings are immensely complicated. We not only have a hard time truly knowing others, but also knowing ourselves. He sees the love of the TLM as being a love of rigidity. He was schooled in the spirit of Vatican II. I disagree with him, but I cannot fault him for that. The Pope is just going to see many things differently than I will. And Perhaps rarely I will be right and he will, in fact, be wrong. What else can I do but pray and serve as best I can.
  4. But could he actually be caught up in believing false doctrine? Of course. He is a man and a sinner. Being Pope doesn’t make him perfect. Other popes have believed and promoted false doctrine. What am I to do with this? That’s fairly easy: pray for him and the Church, also pray for my own faith, continually learn and hold fast to orthodox teaching and practice, encourage others to do the same, seek unity, be humble, offer charity, and love as Christ has love us.

If you are still reading, then I will say that I do worry somewhat about this pontificate. I love Pope Francis, but I think he may be doing a poor job at running the Church and the Holy See. I also worry he is under the sway of powerful theologians and thinkers and politicians who are pushing to further the modernist agenda begun before Vatican II, flowered in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and continues today. He himself may be a through and through modernist. And he might actually be a dictator — from what I’ve read this is likely. So I have concerns.

BUT… I cannot know his heart. I do not know how the Vatican works, or most everything that goes on behind the scenes. I recognize that almost no reporting about the Pope, pro or con or apparently neutral, is without some kind of agenda and is therefore skewed regardless of which “side” it comes from. I find myself, in my “mature age” becoming skeptical of absolutes, except when it comes to dogma. I want to trust in God, and I do. I refuse to get caught up in the speculations, at least not too much. And I certainly do not know what God is up to. So I pray for the Pope, the Church, my Archbishops and priests, my family, and the world.

Simply, I am pro-Pope. I am pro-Church. I don’t think it’s a good thing for Catholics to publicly criticize the Pope. If they want to in private, with the right people open to discussion, and with thoughtful Catholics who can and might challenge their complaints, then that’s fine. But they shouldn’t be too public about it, and they shouldn’t be in an echo chamber either. Satan is the real enemy. Don’t open cracks for him. And the world, because it loves Satan, is already the enemy of the Church too. No need to give it any more ammo.

YET… I am not terribly worried. In fact, I’m not really worried at all. I have come to believe at the core of my being that God is love, that He does work all things together for good for those who love Him, and that His providence is real. I also believe that suffering is good, and that deeply knowing this is one of the reasons I came into the Church — not so that I would suffer more, but that I would be in the Church that actually embraces suffering and understands it, incorporates it. It’s just too important to go anywhere else.

Finally: I know something about what it’s like to be a Christian without a Pope. I lived many decades as a Protestant. I cling to the Pope, at least to the office itself. I sense many Catholics don’t understand this — at least they don’t see with the kind of clarity I do. My desire is first to help the Pope, not to denigrate him, to lift him up, not to bring him down. Catholics need to see how truly important it is to have a pope. Today Francis is our Pope.

He is my Pope.

5n2n

baby-boomers
original image found here

I gripe. I’m a griper.

One thing that is glaringly apparent to a former outsider of the Catholic Church (I was a trained anti-Catholic Baptist/neo-Calvinist/almost Evangelical — good people, btw) who has recently come into the Church (that would be me in 2013) is that the Novus Ordo Mass is, among other things, a reflection of the values and stylistic preferences of the 1960’s baby boomers. I know this because I grew up in a baby boomer era west coast version of Christianity so prevalent in the 1970s — a version that even outdoes the Catholics in sentimentality — and I know this kind of Christianity intimately. I saw how our Baptist church changed from the somewhat stodgy Christianity of my grandparents to that of my parents. (Oh, I’ve got stories.) In fact, I thought some of the changes were for the better. But for the sometimes nostalgic feelings I have for my past, I don’t think that version of Christianity is particularly good. (Well, it’s probably heretical at some level) And I certainly don’t think it’s good for Catholics.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Vatican II, and a leaning towards pre-Vatican II Catholicism is on the rise (and so is the resistance to that rise), but we still have the spirit of the 1960’s (the spirit of the baby boomers) with us today — some of that spirit is good, but a lot is not. Perhaps the evidence is most apparent in the music sung at so many Masses today.

Let me pause a moment and say that I still mostly attend the Novus Ordo Mass, but have been going to Traditional Latin Mass when it’s available in my area and I can make it. Lately I’ve been calling them the Greater Mass and the Lesser Mass. I think you can guess which is which. And I know some will want to chastise me for straddling the fence too much, but there’s a story to everyone’s life and I’ve got one too. So, here I am, for now.

Frequently at the NO Mass we sing (well… not everyone sings) songs that are clearly poor shadows of the 1960’s folk-style oeuvre. I love that oeuvre, but not sung at Mass, and certainly not poor shadows as some kind of praise or prayer to our King. Honestly, I’m not sure what we are doing sometimes. Is this a prayer? Is this about God or about me?? But I see the baby boomers happily singing these songs without even having to look at the “hymnal.” Hymnal is in quotes because a lot of these are songs barely resembling hymns, and the “hymnal” is really a cheap and disposable “mass market” (pun intended) paperback — which itself is a message counter to the gravity, substantiality, beauty, and truth of the faith and Catholic worship — but that’s another topic.

I can’t even…

My apologies for that nausea inducing surypy sentimental moment.

It was the boomers that welcomed the new Mass, just as they welcomed “sit ins” and Peter, Paul and Mary, welcomed bell bottom jeans and antiestablishmentarianism, and rejected nearly all traditions and the voices of anyone over thirty.¹ It was the boomers who felt strongly that their parents didn’t and couldn’t understand how the world had changed.² Their parents voted for Eisenhower, supported Vietnam, questioned the civil rights movement, covered their couches in clear plastic, and would later vote for Nixon. Squaresville.

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
Wo wo wo
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey

Catholicism was obviously even more entrenched deep within a stale and rigid tradition. Right? Think of that silly sedia gestatoria and all that turgid pomp. The very opposite of hip and cool. Right? It had to change. It had to get with it. The Church needed a new bag. It had to serve the Me Generation — a generation unable to accept anything other than what it could invent itself. Otherwise the churches would soon empty out, the seminaries would close, the faithful would get their entertainment elsewhere, the world would cease to take the Church seriously, and priests, if not giving in to the the sexual revolution and its perversions, would leave the priesthood, get married to nuns, and become positive thinking gurus. (oops) The traditional had to go and the contemporary had to come in. Open the Church’s windows and doors and let the winds of the zeitgeist blow through, clearing out the cobwebs and stale air. Finally!!

What was not anticipated was just how stale the winds of fashion would become from one day to the next. Quickly the Church began to stink with the foul air of the age.

Winds-of-God-Front
Who could have know where this would lead?

An aside: I love Peter, Paul and Mary, but just not at Mass and certainly not poor shadows of that trio. On Eagles Wings?! I Am the Bread of Life??! Wut? And heck, even though I love that now everyday is “casual day” at work, wearing a t-shirt branded Lou’s Shake-Shack and flip flops before the Real Presence? Really? This is not merely a matter of taste, or class distinctions, nor is it an “ageist” argument. Rather it’s theological and liturgical. If we truly have the Real Presence before us, then…?? then…?? Come on folks.

What does worship and true reverence demand? What has God made us for?

A confession: I am a Generation X guy, but only just under the wire. Some might even say I was born in the last year of the boomer generation — but I refuse to agree. I refuse *stomping feet* to be in that mad camp. But I still have a lot of the Jesus movement coursing through my veins. I was weaned on Larry Norman. I’ve sang my fair share of folk/rock/pop “worship” hymns/songs/whatever and, I have to say, I loved a lot of that, and still do. Back “in the day” I even (poorly) lead my Protestant youth group in worship, playing my guitar like some who desperately needed lessons. And I still love the music of that Catholic-hating Protestant Jesus freak, the late great Keith Green. (Has anyone written a more beautiful modern hymn as good as Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful or as sublime as My Eyes are Dry? God rest his soul.) But we don’t even get Green’s quality of songs at Mass — unless we go way way back and sing great works from the past which ultimately put his songs to shame. Just what are we offering to God with these new songs? Any why are we singing anyway if not to pray? yada yada yada

A little slice of Christianity from 1972:

Youth synod?

Anyway, the boomers³ at the contemporary Novus Ordo Mass of today, who sing from memory those mediocre “hymns” with a smile on their faces, are probably the less than five percent (maybe it’s ten percent? I’m making this up) of their generation that remained in the church once the liturgical turmoil and confusion of the 1970’s and 80’s drove most Catholics away. In other words, it seems most of the boomer Catholics back in the day got what they wanted (change, revolution, freedom, folk music, bongos, and modernism-inspired teaching) and then left Catholicism for other things (Evangelical Protestantism, New Age spirituality, free market capitalism, pastel cashmere sweaters, etc.). Only a few remained. And many of those that stayed (including the Holy Father, who is a bit older than a baby boomer btw) often seem utterly perplexed as to why it’s the Catholic youth and Protestant converts who are leading the charge for the Church to re-embrace the Traditional Latin Mass and other traditional & ancient forms of Catholic worship and devotion. They see it as a return to a rigid⁴ faith. Perhaps for a few it is, but in general I think it is something entirely different, something more profound. Perhaps far less rigid, actually.

In fact, the great traditions of the Church, including the Mass of the ages (The Greater Mass — you know that’s what I meant), is the least rigid aspect of Catholicism I can think of. Sadly, it seems to me the Pope and “his men” are some of the most rigid Catholics I’ve witnessed. This grieves me, but I am not surprised for I know human nature. Pray for the Pope. I think he was hurt by someone or something many years ago. I think he carries that hurt with him today. I don’t mean to sound trite. Pray.

Okay, okay… I also have to say the boomers who have remained faithful to the Church through it all are also often examples of love for Christ, service to others, and active participants in church. Who am I to judge, right? It’s mostly boomers who run and manage my parish, and they are great. The doors would shut without them. They run the local Catholic Community Services organization, St. Vincent de Paul, and other social programs. They do a great deal of service and are devoted to the parish. They put me to shame. I’m probably a terrible person.

AND… many, many boomers are leading the charge towards the Traditional Latin Mass. Some bearing deep scars from past battles and beatings. They must be given more credit than they often receive. The Spirit of Vatican II has been quite a terror.

The key reason to call the Novus Ordo Mass the Baby Boomer Mass is not to denigrate the Baby Boomers, at least not any more than any other generation, but merely to recognize that the Novus Ordo is a Mass beholden to the fashions and proclivities of a particular generation or two, rather than the Mass that arose from across the centuries, beholden to no generation, and expressing an almost ineffable timelessness and more heavenly characteristics.

Thus, to sum up, unlike the timelessness and substantial beauty of the Traditional Catholic Mass, the Baby Boomer Mass is looking old and tired, like pet rocks and yesterday’s hairstyles. (Not to speak of deeper liturgical and theological tragedy that is the NO Mass.) Strangely, so often the Novus Ordo Mass looks more and more like a time capsule and, perhaps surprisingly, the Mass of the ages looks like the best choice for the contemporary Church. And isn’t that almost always the case? What is trendy looks old so quickly, and what is ancient is timeless. Fashions come and go. We ought not let the form follow fashion. We really shouldn’t be about fashion at all.

Perhaps the greatest gift the Novus Ordo has given the Church is the opportunity for comparison and reflection. Because of the NO we can see better the profound greatness of the Traditional Latin Mass and much of traditional Catholic culture, perhaps in a way past generations couldn’t see or had grown blind to.

Of course all of this is a gross oversimplification, and not necessarily (or mostly, or merely) a generational divide. It’s not about boomers getting old or, heaven forbid, the youth once again leading the way. God save us! But it’s also not merely a matter of “updating” the Mass to a more contemporary fashion. (Some are saying we haven’t gone far enough with V2.) Nor is it about going back to some “golden age.” There’s a lot more to be said. A lot more.

Anyway… I gripe. I’m a griper.


  1. “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” was a phrase spoken by Jack Weinberg, a leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the 1960’s.
  2. “Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is
    Rapidly agin’.
    Please get out of the new one
    If you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’.” (Bob Dylan, 1963)
  3. Frankly, it’s not just the boomers. I do see some younger folks–in their thirties and forties–singing these songs without needing the hymnal. Why why why? Who are these people?
  4. As said by Pope Francis himself: “[M]any young people in the church today who have fallen into the temptation of rigidity. Some are honest, they are good and we must pray that the Lord help them grow along the path of meekness.” Found here and many other reports.

 

518px-Les_Très_Riches_Heures_du_duc_de_Berry_octobre_detail
Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Octobre, the Musée Condé, Chantilly, circa 1440

The three videos below are of an amazing lecture series by Dr. Andrew Jones on the worldview of the High Middle Ages. It is fairly technical, but this is important. We inhabit our modern worldview(s) like fish inhabit the sea. It takes a lot to grasp one’s own worldview, let alone understand another so foreign to our sensibilities as the Medieval one. The depth of Dr. Jones’ talks provide much of the necessary perspective to understand a traditional Christian perspective that is, I believe, essentially foreign to modern Christians.

I find the Middle Ages worldview particularly fascinating in light of Rod Dreher’s timely and provocative book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Dreher poses the idea that, since we live in a post-Christian world, Christians should recognize that fact and focus on what can be done to shore up the faith, including communities and practices that support the faith as a kind of bulwark against the prevailing winds of our time. This does not mean forsaking the culture and leaving it entirely to its own devices, rather he argues we should find other means of engagement than what we might be familiar with, while also focusing less on secular battles and more on building healthy Christian communities. Still, his vision is a kind of retreat into faith and Christian culture, and out of the culture wars and the insidious power of secular society. Drehere uses St. Benedict as an examples and talisman for his thought experiment — leaving us with more of a Medieval monastic approach than a modern sociopolitical stance. I find his argument mostly convincing — at least I want it to be, perhaps more than it is.

And yet, Dr. Jones’ approach is not about critiquing our modern world as Dreher does. He merely lays out the High Middles Ages worldview in such detail that one cannot help but compare it to our own. My reaction is basically this: Christians should jettison the modern worldview and embrace the medieval one. But this is no mere “Benedict option.” Rather, it is something even more profound. It would require a nearly total worldview, total cosmological reorientation of Christianity itself. In other words, what we call Christianity today is a far cry from what Christianity was in the Middle Ages, and we might want to grieve that loss.

Our modern worldview is the child of the Enlightenment. Modern Christianity, primarily Protestantism but also too much of modern Catholicism, is also a child of the Enlightenment, which was a child of Protestantism — a kind of serpent eating its own tail. In other words, once Western Civilization gave up on the Medieval worldview it’s been a slow slog downhill in many respects. Does this mean we ought to go back to the Middle Ages? No. But we ought to look deeply into their worldview and critique our own.

In short, we could only have ended up with the Novus Ordo Mass once we lost our understanding of the Medieval world view. It seems clear to me that the struggles many modern Catholics have with accepting the Traditional Latin Mass is that it truly seems fundamentally foreign to them, and in a sense it is. I would argue, and I think it is also clear from these lectures, that the Medieval worldview, at its core at least, is both more biblical and more human, than the worldview underlying much of what we might call “modern Catholicism.”

So, in another sense, we do need to go back. We need to recover the Truth about God, the Church, and ourselves. And we should look to the pinnacle of Christendom, its core beliefs, and its way of looking at the world and the life of man, to find that Truth.

For Protestants this will mean recognizing the more Biblical worldview is a traditional Catholic one. For Catholics this means the traditional Catholic worldview is one that far too many Catholics today (perhaps most) do not know or live. Perhaps what the Church needs is a new kind of renaissance — a rediscovery of what was lost, and then letting that discovery reanimate the Church and our lives. This could, then, become what brings Christians back to the same table, once again spiritually, liturgically, and visibly united in Christ.

I’m reposting this, because it is so good. But also because we live in a society that has become a slave to sentimentality. This is also true of Christianity — sentimentality affects so much and we are so blind. O’Connor hated sentimentality. Ralph Wood speaks to this in the midst of so much else he says. A rich talk indeed.

flannery_oconnor_painting

A truly great lecture…

flannery

I am wondering how divided the Church is, or at least how divided Protestantism is today. I am reposting this from June 28, 2012. At that time I was on my way to becoming Catholic, and Church disunity was one of the primary reasons for my abandoning Protestantism. But do people even care much anymore about denominations? Are not the majority of Christians today mostly just choosing a kind of buffet-style evangelicalism? Even a lot of Catholics seem to essentially be merely post-modern pop-evangelicals in their faith and merely post-conciliar Catholics in there actions. And yet, perhaps this means we are even more divided than ever with each individual representing their own, personal denomination.

This was originally posted in June 2012.

“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:22-23, NASB)

I continue to be astounded by the number of Protestant church divisions in this country alone (not including divisions elsewhere). For most of my life I’ve only had vague notions of these divisions, and never considered them as serious. I have also lived mostly with the view that they can be ignored (because I believed they are someone else’s problem) and all I need is faith and the Bible. Now I am inclined to see these divisions as having informed my thinking more than I realized, as deeply troubling, as a testament to the questionable “fruit” of the Reformation, and I want to seek resolution for my own faith and life.

The following set of images gives a high-level overview of some of the more obvious divisions we find within Protestant/Reformed churches in this country. I understand there are many more divisions than listed here, but I think this is enough to choke on for now.

American Christian branches
to European founded churches

Click on the first image to begin the slide show:

These images came from a slid deck I found on a Catholic apologetics web site.

The copyright for the slides are held by:
Peterson, Susan Lynn (1999).
Timeline Charts of the Western Church.
Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI

A recent discussion prompted me to think again of some posts I did on baptism. My friend was emphatically saying something like we all know baptism isn’t necessary, etc, etc. I know very well how deep that thinking goes for many Protestants, and the context of the discussion wasn’t good for challenging assumptions, so I just let it be, but I know now that baptism is necessary. I also believe that God works with people where they are, and that one’s conscience is fundamental, so I’m not particularly worried. Still, it’s good to refresh one’s memory from Holy Scripture and be ready for possible future discussions.

This post was originally publish April 26, 2011.

Sermon of St. John the Baptist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1566

The following citations come from the English Standard Version (ESV) translation. The purpose of this list, for me at least, is to gather in one place as many of the scriptural references on baptism as I can so that I might begin to understand the place and meaning of baptism in the life of faith. If I have missed any biblical references, whether directly mentioning baptism or whether pointing to baptism metaphorically or symbolically, please let me know.

John baptizes:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2)

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:4-5)

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3)

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6)

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7)

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. (Luke 3:7-8a)

John points to Jesus:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)

“I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Luke 3:15-16)

They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:25-27)

Jesus gets baptized:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

“I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:33-34)

Jesus baptizes:
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). (John 3:22-24)

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:25-26)

The nature of John’s baptism?
“The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?'” (Matthew 21:25)

“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” (Mark 11:30)

He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” (Luke 20:3-4)

Jesus’ teaching on (or related to) baptism:
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized . . .” (Mark 10:38-39)

“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) (Luke 7:28-30)

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:49-51)

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16)

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5)

Baptism in the first generation church:
“. . . beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:22)

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37-40)

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. (Acts 8:12-13)

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 8:14-16)

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:36-39)

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. (Acts 9:17-19)

“. . . you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed” (Acts 10:37)

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:47-48a)

“And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 11:16)

“Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” (Acts 13:24)

The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” (Acts 16:14b-15a)

Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)

He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. (Acts 18:25)

And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:3-6)

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. (Acts 22:16)

Paul on baptism:
By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:2-4)

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:13-17)

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4a)

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? (1 Corinthians 15:29)

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12)

Peter on baptism:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)

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There are a number of Church history timelines out there if you want to find them. They all support one argument or another. Of the ones I’ve found (via Google image searching) most seem designed to demonstrate how the more or less connected Eastern Orthodox churches are somehow, truly, the one, consistently intact, non-apostate church, by showing that both the Catholic Church and all the Protestant churches are apostate deviations from Eastern Orthodoxy. I don’t find these timelines or arguments very convincing (though I flirted with becoming Eastern Orthodox before entering the Catholic Church).

Very few timelines I’ve seen are about the histories of Protestant churches from a Protestant perspective for obvious reasons — pick any one and they don’t go back very far, and are rife with so many splits as to make one’s head spin. See this previous post for examples. Rampant disunity and proneness to division makes the Protestant churches visually impossible to establish their continuity with the Apostles (and opens the door to questions most Protestants would like to imagine don’t actually exist or are not important). Better to avoid that embarrassing visual altogether. Anyway, Protestants put their emphasis on other things.

Yet, we get clearly from scripture that Jesus, with His apostles, founded a Church; that that Church is both mystical and visible, is marked by unity, is full of sacraments, and Hell will not prevail against it. Thus we should expect to find a clear line through history that we can call the Church. Given that all human beings are sinners, and that the Church is made up of sinners, then we should also expect an imperfect Church, prone to struggles, run through with sin, and teaming with problems — perhaps even its own periodic “dark ages” and times of great distress. But we should also see the work of the Holy Spirit, working on the hearts of the Church’s members, guiding the Church through the struggles, chastising it, correcting it, disciplining it, but keeping the thread of continuity always visible. If we are willing to entertain such an idea, it doesn’t take long to discover the Catholic Church is the best choice for being that church. All others, except to some degree the Eastern Orthodox churches, pale in comparison.

But it’s not all that easy to find a timeline of Church history from a Catholic perspective. Perhaps that’s because Catholics don’t feel they need to create such a thing.

However, here’s a decent one showing the continuity of the Catholic Church as compared to various Protestant divisions:

Timeline of Catholic Church
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If the visual of this timeline means anything, then we see the Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists grouped on one side, and all the rest on the other — which implies more or less deviation from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church — depending on which side one is on. Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists — the diagram seems to say — are closer to the Catholic Church than those on the right. This is the traditional Catholic perspective, though it has changed in recent years as generally only Evangelicals, Baptists, and some Reformed maintained traditional moral positions (mainly on sexual, gender, and life issues) and the mainline churches have deviated substantially.

My own history began in one of those Baptist strands on the right. I knew nothing about anything of Church history, and especially Baptist history. If Blessed John Henry Newman is right, that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant, then it’s no wonder Protestants (especially of the radical reformation) don’t want to know anything about their church histories — it’s too much of a threat to their way of life. I got the impression that our church had sprung directly from the pages of scripture, which allowed us to blithely disregard most all of Christian history from the death of St. John to the present day. Nearly everything I heard about the history of the Church could have been boiled down to a handful of repeated (and easily refuted) tropes about the Reformation and “those Catholics,” accepted with knowing nods, and never questioned. That was my experience. Of course, we never asked any knowledgeable Catholics about anything.

Now we live at a time when questions of doctrine and dogma, Church history and practice, and the deep divisions among the faithful are shrugged off as being uninteresting. So much of Christian experience seems to reflect our broader societies values (beliefs are only personal and must remain so, faith is private, and choosing a church is more like choosing a new favorite restaurant) that people can’t see any purpose in asking if there is such a thing as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

While growing up Protestant, naturally I was told church history was unimportant — only Jesus and the Bible were important. But if the Church is the bride of Christ, then history matters — like your own history. You are a continuity of God’s grace in your life, and so is the Church. What is particularly troubling with this timeline is that it shows that Christians have been practicing separating (one could say divorcing) from each other for a very long time. As they say, practice makes perfect. What has this done to our souls? How has this spirit invaded our culture at all levels?

We read in John chapter 17, Jesus prayed:

“And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…”

Did Christ intend that they, and we, actually be one — implying visible as well as mystical unity? Can we really, over the long term, have the mystical and not the visible? Can we be divided in practice, in doctrine, in life, and still be okay that somewhere, somehow, we’re all unified in Christ? Like the hardness of heart Christ speaks of when he discusses divorce, is the Church in time and space, in hearts and in actions, an example to the world of the hardness of ours hearts? I think so. This is a profound problem.

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Chrism Mass in Westminster Cathedral, procession at the beginning.

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I have come to believe that once one cares at all about the continuity of the Church down through the ages, it then becomes clear all arrows point to the Catholic Church as the one founded by Christ. For all of its problems, and its crazy history, it remains. If one cannot imagine becoming Catholic, then it’s best to forget everything about Church history, grab one’s Bible, and just claim Jesus as Lord. Right? To many this sounds like a good plan, but that very perspective is at the heart of that crazy timeline of disunity, with Christians splitting from each other, with every man a pope, creating havoc among the faithful, and shaming Christ before the world. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about the “me and Jesus” mindset as the foundation for being the Church. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about betting on sola scriptura. The evidence is everywhere.

This timeline shows that Christians have grotesquely failed in unity. Given human nature, original sin, and the incessant work of the Devil, this is no surprise. I have written about this before, but I believe the spirit at the core of the Reformation was the spirit of disunity (shored up by theological arguments that sound a lot like excuses), and that spirit has thrived down the centuries until today, and has affected all of modern culture — we are a culture of divorce on all fronts (we are constantly separating ourselves from others, reveling in our disunity, fighting against those “idiots,” and finding ever new ways to stay apart). But Christians should know that in and through Christ all those distinctions fade, and our human excuses disappear. Non-denominationalism (not caring about denominations any more) has not solved this issue. Evangelicalism has not solved the issue — though it embodies some good things. Cool churches in school gyms have not solved the issue. Gathering “outside” mainstream Christian culture in some small, radical biblicism enclave has not solved the issue. Social media, and our ability to be “connected,” has not solved this issue. Unity in Christ is hard enough, why then seek it and flaunt it?

Because I know that at the individual level there are many, many Christians who passionately love Christ, I have hope for a coming unity once again. That unity will, and must, be both of the heart and visible; of faith and structure; of the mystical Church and the church down the street. May we humbly follow Christ and be “one” again.


Post Script: Most Christians, as far as I can tell, could not care less about these things. This is true for both Protestants and Catholics. There is a happy cluelessness, a shrug and a “who cares?” or “I don’t see how that matters” attitude. I care, in part, because I was Protestant and converted to Catholicism. I had to wrestle with a lot of issues and claims raised by both “sides.” I was drawn by the Holy Spirit to wrestle with these things. I learned that history matters. It can teach us a lot. We each hold many assumptions and presuppositions, and those all have a history to them. I believe these are critical issues because I believe that truth matters, scripture matters, and what & who one has faith in matters. I don’t want to hold dear verses like John 3:16 …reveling in the love of God and feeling great, and forget that the Church, which was established by Christ, is also the body of Christ and the bride of Christ — something visible, living, breathing, acting, unified, in the world, reflecting Christ, and connected year over year through tradition, scripture, and structure. We believe in Christ by being a part of His Body. Belief is not about feelings only, or even mostly. One has to choose.

I have to care, make wise judgements, and then choose. I cannot not care. I cannot not choose.

The following video is of a traditional Latin, or Tridentine, Mass in Paris (so you will hear both Latin and French). What the video does not say is that this is a Mass of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), taking place at their only Paris church, Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet. However (I say “however” because SSPX is nearly, but not quite, a schismatic church), I love this video for how it captures the sense of ordinary humanity attending a Mass, and of the beauty of the 1962, pre-Vatican II Latin Mass — and the strong sense of a truly Catholic culture surrounding this Mass. (I imagine it’s more than just the Mass, though that’s the biggest part. I imagine there are numerous traditions this community keeps alive.) I wish dearly such masses occurred in my home town.* I love the Latin, I love the solemnity — I believe our world today is craving solemnity and true worship. I would like to see more videos of this, or better quality from parishes that have actual canonical status in the Catholic Church.

NOTE: I am no fan of the SSPX, but I think they have some valid concerns. This letter of caution sums up my feelings fairly well. I get the struggles some Catholics have with all the changes and turmoil in the Church since the roots of modernism and complacent sluggishness began rotting the core (heart? passions? justifications?) of the Church in the early parts of the last century, and then the winds of the radical 1960’s rushed through the Church, as they did through all of society. Some want to blame the Second Vatican Council, but I don’t believe it. The Church has suffered since the sixties, just as it has at many times in its history, and those times become the soil from which a better Church grows — it is the constant process of reformation that has gone on since St. Peter denied Christ, and the Corinthians were sowing disunity among themselves, and the Galatians were being foolish with their doctrine. We should welcome the past fifty+ years like we welcome suffering — not wishing it on anyone else, but willing to embrace it personally for its deeper value. (Keep in mind I say this being a Catholic less than three years.) I honestly think we might be on the verge of something like a new rebirth of the Church. We typically don’t know what we have lost until we have lost it. But it takes time, not as long as geologic time, but it can feel that way. Regardless, I am not a fan of the SSPX because I can smell Protestantism from a long ways away, having spent forty-seven years of my life in that world, and now am a Catholic happy to not be protesting anymore. Beware Catholics, don’t play with fire. I know that spirit of protest, and of pride, which is the real rot at the heart of the SSPX. Rebellion is not the same as true reformation. One is of pride, the other of humility. HOWEVER, I firmly believe there are many good Christians attending SPPX masses (for a variety of reasons), just as there are many good Christians in other Protestant churches. AND I pray for reconciliation. AND, given Pope Francis has granted SSPX priests the ability to licitly provide absolution during the Jubilee Year of Mercy one can probably hope even more confidently.

* Lately we have been attending a slightly more traditional Mass at the oldest (though not truly very old) parish in our town. Though in the Ordinary Form, and with the priest facing the people (with which I don’t have an issue), the Mass is very solemn, and we sing the Gloria in Latin, with a few other parts in Latin. There is also an organ for musical accompaniment, and at least one song is from the St. Michael Hymnal. I find myself nearly overcome with emotion at times.

Apollos

Apollos was one of the major figures in the early Church. Remember those ugly divisions in the church at Corinth that we discover in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he says:

For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided?

Apollos was so influential and popular that some Christians were even claiming to be his followers in rivalry to those who followed Paul or Peter, and even to Christ (which is particularly strange). To stand alongside Peter and Paul in the early church is no small thing. Fortunately the issue was not with Apollos, but with the Corinthians. I find this interesting, but I want to focus on how Apollos got his start. We first hear about him in the Acts of the Apostles:

A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent speaker, arrived in Ephesus. He was an authority on the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and, with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way [of God] more accurately. And when he wanted to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. After his arrival he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace. He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

We first find Apollos in Ephesus preaching the Gospel as he understood it. He came from Alexandria, which is in norther Egypt, a city founded around 331 BC by Alexander the Great. later the city came under Roman rule around 80 B.C.

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Eventually Apollos ended up in the city of Ephesus. Most likely he came there around 52-3 A.D. He was a powerful preacher, “an eloquent speaker”, “with ardent spirit”, and “vigorously refuted the Jews”. He probably preached in the allegorical style of Philo, an influential Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who had lived in Alexandria. Later Apollos traveled to Achaia, the northwestern region of the Peloponnese peninsula. This region was a major cultural and trading area, and included the city of Corinth.

Notice that when the apostles came upon Apollos he was already a convert of sorts. The Gospel was not an entirely new message. He was already preaching, spreading some good news, and “spoke and taught accurately about Jesus.” This must have been a startling and wonderful surprise for Priscilla and Aquila. And yet, notice that Apollos did not have the full picture yet. He “knew only the baptism of John,” which means he had some basics, and could call people to repentance, but he did not have the whole story. What exactly he did and did not know is not entirely clear, perhaps he did not know “that the Messiah is Jesus”, or more likely he did not know about Pentecost and the existence of the Church. Whatever it was, Priscilla and Aquila “explained to him the Way [of God] more accurately.”

My post title is meant to be a bit provocative, and certainly tongue-in-cheek, but one could say Apollos was an evangelist who preached baptism (“he knew only the baptism of John”). He heard the call to carry the word of God to others. He “was an authority on the scriptures” which meant he had a solid and powerful foundation. He “taught accurately about Jesus”, but Priscilla and Aquila recognized he did not have the full picture. He was gifted in speech and used his gift, but he did not have the fullness of faith until he was taught it, accepted it, and became a member of that group that was becoming known as Christians, the Church, the Body of Christ.

Imagine if, after having heard the whole story from Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos had rejected them. What if he remained comfortable with the ministry he already had, with the knowledge he already had, with “only the baptism of John” such that he had no interest in the full message of Christ and the Way? What if he had no interest in entering the Church, in becoming a Christian? What if he had rejected the Church, claiming the visible, hierarchical Body of Christ was an invention? One thing for certain, we would very likely not know about him now, for his story would not have made it into scriptures. And if he had rejected them, he probably would have done so by marshaling all his knowledge of scripture, and with his gifts of speech, and fought them in debate. Perhaps he would have defended his “simpler” version of repentance and left the resurrection out of it. Perhaps he would have pointed out that the Christians were adding to the story, and they were including the gentiles in the covenant, and the apostles were claiming authority and handing down their authority to others. He might have rejected the Real Presence, saying the Eucharist is only a symbol. Although, given he was a first century Jew, he likely would have had a sacramental view of religion.

Obviously I’m making a comparison with Protestantism, and specifically with the Baptist version I grew up in. Catholics claim that Protestants are fellow believers, but that they have rejected the fullness of the faith. When faced with the richness of the Catholic faith, most Protestants balk. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is that few Protestants truly know what Catholicism is, largely because they see Catholicism through “lenses” that only distort what they see (though they would argue otherwise). Fortunately Apollos did not protest. Rather, he heard the full story of the Gospel, he believed, and he became a member of the Body of Christ. And then he played an important role in those critical early years of the Church.

Maybe the story of Apollos should be encouragement to Catholics to continue to reach out to their Protestant brethren and explain the Way in all its fullness. And certainly for all of us, the story of Apollos can challenge us to ask if we truly understand the fullness of the faith.

A few thoughts on accepting the authority of the Church, regardless of its sinful members, as a means of coming to terms with the right place of Holy Scripture and Marian doctrine.

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Recently I added my two cents to a blog post where the poster posted part of a letter he had received from a Protestant reader of the poster’s books. This Protestant was struggling with the poster’s arguments for the Immaculate Conception (the Mother of Christ being born without sin) and the Assumption (the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life). The Protestant, interestingly, is married to a Catholic and claims that he and his wife share most all orthodox Christian beliefs, but he cannot find clear scriptural teaching on either of these two Marian doctrines. I think I know his struggle, and I felt compelled to write the following:

Whether this is the issue for the reader or not, the question of Church authority played a big part in my dealing with Catholic teaching about Mary, and whether I would accept that teaching or not. So this is more of a personal response.

Having been in Protestantland for a few decades, and only just recently come into the Church, I can say I feel the reader’s pain. And the “show me where in the Bible” response just makes so much sense. But then I wrestled with the issue of authority and the Church won (I’m deeply happy to say). However, the Church “winning” is not to set the Church against the scriptures, rather it is to finally place the scriptures in their proper place, neither above nor below, but as part of the Church. And, though it is my responsibility to use the rationality God gave me as I seek the Truth, it is not my place to decide doctrine apart from the Church established by Christ and animated by the Spirit.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the best approach is to have an “I trust the Church, where else am I to go” attitude. This is not a blind, turn-off-my-brain approach, for it is also scriptural. Rather, it is about following Christ; it is about avoiding the “I refuse to believe unless I see it with my own eyes” attitude and, instead, to carefully and prayerfully trust. But that’s the issue isn’t it? The Church is full of sinners, has many troubling parts of its history (past and present), that to trust the Church seems like something only a fool would do – at least to someone on the outside looking in. I’ve been there.

Mistrusting the Church often arises from a “you shall know them by their fruits” perspective, and to some this clearly damns the Church. It takes a lot for a Protestant to accept the authority of Christ propagated through His Church, through the bishops and popes, and through all that sinful detritus that seems to clog the works. I find myself clinging to the words of Chesterton: “The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.” If we cannot accept that, then we will not accept the Church as the authority, binding and loosing, preserving and carrying forward the gospel as handed down and developed from the beginning.

But the authority of the Church is one of the great gifts of salvation history given to us. It is, in fact, a great relief. And if the Church has such authority then one should bow the knee to Christ by accepting what the Church declares as true in morals and doctrine – including its teaching on the Blessed Mother. Call me a fool, but I praise God for the Magisterium.

A lot of this is speculation, and may say more about me than anything else. Anyway…

Apostolic succession maze
I saw the above comic a while back on FB. As expected there were a few hundred comments arguing back and forth about apostolic succession. Some saying it’s true, some saying it’s not, and some just disagreeing with the particular take on apostolic succession presented in the comic. As we expect, some of the comments got rather heated and caustic (to put it mildly). Christians love forsaking Christ in the combox. Anyway, I find the comic rather funny, but more than that, I find it both true and pointing to something I’ve been thinking about for some time: namely that both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches represent The Church established by Christ, and Protestant and evangelical and non-denominational churches do not. (I’ll concede that, perhaps, not many Christians think of themselves as Protestant anymore. They’re probably not really “protesting” the Catholic Church, though they may still uncritically hold many anti-Catholic prejudices.)

First: Here’s the idea that’s been in my mind lately – Saying Protestant churches do not represent the Church established by Christ is not to say that individual Protestants are not Christians (or, for that matter, saying individual Catholics are), or that the gospel is not preached from their pulpits, or that the Holy Spirit is not active in their lives, but it is meant to point us to that critical scene when Jesus met Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and accused him of persecuting Him because Saul was persecuting the Church, that we should then ask if that Church is still visibly with us today. I say yes it is visible, but that visible Church is not the Protestant churches accepting (or embracing) the spirit of division and denying apostolic succession.

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We might think as an analogy of the story in Acts when Priscilla and Aquila met Apollos, who only knew the baptism of John, and they taught him the whole gospel. If Apollos had rejected the whole gospel and stuck only with the baptism of John, he would be lost even though he still had some crucial piece of the truth – though God, of course, could choose to save him. In a similar way, Protestants who claim to know only Christ crucified, and then reject Christ’s visible Church, put themselves on thin ice. Further, Protestantism is as fragmented and dis-unified a group as could be. Remember, when Paul writes to the Corinthians that he knew “nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”, that he was arguing their disunity demonstrated they didn’t really know “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul was both pointing to Christ and defending the unity of the visible Church. They go together. Why not obey Christ fully within the Church?

The question one could pose is, what are you really protesting? What are you clinging to that is more important than following Christ and His apostles in their prayers and pleading for unity? Parsing theological nuances is interesting, wrangling over theories of atonement is somewhat important, but we must make sure we don’t fall into the trap that says: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is faith.” Faith alone leads inevitably to division. Love leads to unity. Faith is important, critical, required, but love trumps faith. Faith is not the greatest, love is the greatest. Unity is the result of love.

So back to the cartoon – and this is my real reason for writing this post – The Catholic Church views both Orthodox and Catholic together being the true, apostolic Church, though in schism and thus not without insignificant theological and practical differences that must be resolved. I may be selfish in this idea because I have friends who are Eastern Orthodox, and I was once at that doorstep contemplating giving my life to that confession, thus I want to see unity there. I know there is not unity as there should be, but perhaps hope, the other theological virtue, along with love, will have its day.

But it naturally follows then that the Protestant churches, being non-apostolic, yea even apostate, churches are in grave rebellion to the true Church established by Christ and maintained by the Holy Spirit. As implied above, this is not to say that individual Protestant Christians are not destined for the Kingdom of God, nor is it to say that all Orthodox and Catholic Christians are destined for the Kingdom of God. That is up to God alone. But if my intuition is right, why would one want to remain in an apostate Protestant church in outright rebellion against the historical, apostolic Church? Especially if one’s rebellion was really just handed down for generations and has lost much (or all) of its meaning? (Like either fervently or lazily maintaining a family feud for no reason other than that’s just what one is supposed to do.) Or especially if one is a non-denominational evangelical merely because in college one had a crisis of faith and found that the good vibes, warm handshakes, and upbeat music at a roommate’s church made one feel like something real was happening there (and there probably was).

I know many will answer with the predicted Protestant laundry list of arguments, but really, there are excellent, biblically grounded, Catholic answers to all of them – and if there are, even if the arguments end in a kind of tie, stop arguing and just join up. Bow the knee to Christ, who gave you the Church. One enters the Church not because of an argument, but because of Christ. Therefore one should not stay outside the church because of an argument. Come be with Christ, fellowship in His Church, partake of His body and blood in the Eucharist (Jesus Christ, and him crucified), embrace the communion of saints, do not harden your hearts.

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When Christ first came to Saul of Tarsus He did not say, “Why are you persecuting My Church.” Rather, He said, “Why are you persecuting Me?” And yet, was not Saul persecuting Christians, was he not persecuting the Church? Had not Christ left the world? Paul was looking for real people, real Christians, looking for the places they worshiped, looking for the visible Church. He was not looking for Jesus. There is a direct connection between the visible, apostolic Church and Christ Himself. Therefore, if one rejects (not the same as criticizing or judging) the visible, apostolic Church one is rejecting Christ. Perhaps many who call themselves Christians are in greater jeopardy than they realize, like all those who say they love Jesus and hate religion. It may well be that those who make such declarations have unknowingly declared their love of an imaginary Jesus and have rejected the real Jesus.  Of course I can’t know anyone’s heart or what God will ultimately will for anyone, but I figure it’s at least worth examining oneself and the reasons for one’s choices in this regard.

In summary, I say do not remain outside the Church Christ Himself established because of weak arguments, tradition, laziness, what someone else told you, mere prejudice, what others might think of you, fear of the unknown, fear of being uncomfortable, or worst of all, pride. Perhaps pride and ignorance are the two main reasons why many Protestants remain Protestants. That’s the way it was for me.

As I see it, Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians need to make a strenuous effort toward reconciliation, which I believe is already happening. And that Protestants need to repent of their rebellion and bow their knees to Christ’s authority (as do we all) which was and is promulgated through His apostles and their successors. I say this not to point fingers at individuals, but to speak in broad terms. We all need to bow the knee, but Protestantism, as an historical phenomenon, is a “tradition of men,” and is based on rejecting the Church established by Christ himself and maintained by the Holy Spirit, all in the name of self-determined Biblical interpretation. In other words, Protestantism arose not as a reformation, but as a rebellion; as a wrong response to very real problems. Protestants would have you believe the issues are theological, I know because I was one for more than 40 years, but in fact the issues are spiritual and of the heart. I would guess that most Protestants don’t know this, not consciously at least, and that there is something to “ignorance is bliss.” In fact, and this is the way I thought for most of my life, most Protestants couldn’t care less if a church is “apostolic”, not because they really don’t care, but because they don’t know they should care.

I have to come clean: I came into the Catholic Church in September of 2013. I’m a newbie Catholic, and naturally I have a tendency toward “Catholic good, Protestant bad” ways of thinking. I don’t want to be that way, but I did make a decision for Catholicism after years of careful study, prayer, and seeking the wisdom of others. Mostly, though, I made my decision in response to a call from the Holy Spirit.

The thing is, having been a Protestant for more than 40 years, and having wrestled with Protestant theology versus Catholic & Orthodox theology, I know the Protestant arguments rather well. I know the “laundry list” of Protestant reasons why they can’t be Catholic, and frankly, I know they don’t hold up. This is not to say I am much of a theologian, or Church historian, or even a good Christian, but I can say that the two biggest reasons Protestants remain Protestants are pride and ignorance. Ignorance of what Catholics really teach and, ironically, ignorance of what Scripture really says. Pride is that refusal to bow the knee to the authority of the apostles by insisting that oneself (or one’s pastor) be the final authority of truth. Sola Scriptura fails right at the point it is supposed to succeed because it finally comes down to interpretation – who is right, who wins, who has the authority to guard doctrine? Every man a pope as the saying goes. One of the fruits of Protestantism is rampant disunity, including a spirit of disunity that is worn as a badge of authentic faith.

The disunity between Orthodox and Catholic Christians is deeply troubling, and probably not unlike the grave disunity in the newly formed churches St. Paul addresses in his letters (I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Christ). And one could argue it’s due to ignorance and pride as well. What I see is that Catholics and Orthodox tend to be troubled by their disunity, though many may not yet see a solution. But the outright explosion of massive and inherent disunity among Protestants is deeply frightening. More than that, it speaks to something gravely wrong-headed and wrong-hearted at the center of Protestantism – a spirit of division based on personal interpretation of Holy Scripture (not unlike a consumerist “market economy” version of Christianity). In other words, the disunity between Orthodox and Catholic is a rending of a garment, a tear that is unnatural and needs to be repaired. The disunity at the heart of Protestantism is its reason for existence, not a result so much as the starting point, and that calls for repentance.

Commit oneself to unity, the kind of unity for which both Christ and the Apostles prayed. Repent each day. Remember that love is greater than faith. Pray continually. Embrace the Sacraments. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Commit to holiness. Be a saint.

Recently I have personally discovered Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy. He is a powerful advocate for Christian Non-Violence or Pacifism. Years ago I came across Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. That was my first experience with Christian pacifism. More and more my inclinations lean in this direction. In fact, though I am willing to consider other arguments, and will change my mind if necessary, for now I cannot see any compatibility between being a follower of Christ and any kind of violence, including going to war. I say this while still finding stories of heroism in war deeply moving.

Here is one of several talks you can find online by Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy:

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We’re all on one journey or another. Sometimes a person is just journeying along and then at other times reaches a point, perhaps a milestone, perhaps a destination. And sometimes that arrival really means something personally.

And so, when a middle-aged former Protestant converts to the Catholic Church, it naturally is a kind of subjectively momentous moment, and maybe not a little statement. For those who see the Christian landscape in terms of lines on a map, or divided territories, a conversion like this can seem as a crossing over to (or from) the enemy. There are still those who live in a world of Protestant/Catholic trench warfare, often never believing they are motivated by anything other than love (as the bullets fly). Probably for most people in our modern culture, however, such a conversion warrants merely a moment of curiosity with only a shrug and a “well that’s nice.”

But it is a kind of statement because, while many Catholics inherit their status from birth, and others convert in order to please their future spouses, to be raised as a Protestant like me, and to take one’s Protestantism seriously for more than forty years, and then to find a compelling enough reason to leave the anti-Catholics for the Catholics, is to proclaim something important, even if it’s only important to me. In fact, I suppose for many the issue isn’t at all Catholic vs. Protestant, but why even care? Just love Jesus man. So my conversion is both away from Protestantism and a stance for Catholicism. I am not a love Jesus/hate religion guy. I’m a love Jesus and His Church guy. Thus it’s a stand in favor of something older and more permanent than the latest fashion. It’s saying the old debates still matter in some important way. And it’s saying there is something that transcends both the debates and our post-modern nonchalance.

Regardless, it’s usually best to go where one is called to go. And so this past Sunday, with my family as witnesses, I entered the Catholic Church.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I’m no warrior or ardent apologist. I don’t want to defend the ramparts. I move incrementally forward, if at all, in fear and trembling. Only by the grace of God go I. If you have followed this blog at all over the past several years you know that my conversion was a long time coming, filled with pondering and searching along a somewhat circuitous path. If you know me personally, then you know I don’t make these kinds of decisions quickly. Perhaps I like to spend more time than I should in reading and discussing, but this was no little thing for me, and it took a lot of prayer, a lot of reading, podcasts, videos, many many discussions, talking to myself, and a fair amount of back-and-forth.

And don’t get me wrong. All this push and pull was not due to doubt. Seven years ago I knew this was the right way for me. But for various reasons I thought it wasn’t possible, or wasn’t coming soon, so I began working towards it in the only way I knew. Years ago I surprised myself (in more ways than one) by praying that God would “make” me Catholic if it was His will. I said that prayer because I didn’t know how to make it happen myself. In His wisdom God took His time.

So here I am, having “arrived” at (and in) the Catholic Church. I believe the Catholic Church to be the one true Church. And yet, in other more significant ways the journey has only just begun. I’m now Catholic but I’m also just now learning to be Catholic. And I think it will take the rest of my life to learn even a little of what that means. Perhaps it’s best to say the journey continues, as it always has. We are all being and becoming.

In short, I’m still on pilgrimage towards the promised land, towards the New Jerusalem, towards salvation. God willing.