Brandon's Notepad

March 24, 2017

What Does “Catholic” Mean Anyway?

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My recent post covering the five Epistles of Ignatious of Antioch to the Churches in Asia gave rise to some interesting discussions online, including one about the origin of the word “Catholic”. I knew the general answer, that the word means “universal” and that Ignatius was indeed the earliest author to use it, but I wasn’t satisfied with that. I wanted to dig deeper. Here is the result of my research.


Ignatius of Antioch

A discourse on the meaning of the word ‘catholic’ would hardly be complete without some mention of Saint Ignatius of Antioch who used it to describe the Church in his letter to the Smyrnæans in approximately A.D. 108. His message to the believers in Smyrna was clear: be subject to your bishop in all things concerning belief. This is the earliest known writing in which the Church is referred to as ‘universal’ and that leads many people to the conclusion that Ignatius was the first to give the Church her name, or at least the first to coin the phrase. Nothing in the text, however, supports the hypothesis that Ignatius was trying to do either. It appears more likely that he was using a common adjective to describe the whole body of believers everywhere, and that the phrase caught on amongst early Christian writers.

Here is an excerpt taken from the eighth chapter of Ignatius’ letter to the Smyrnæans (taken from NewAdvent.org). The key line of interest has been emphasized and the phrase Catholic Church rendered in bold:

Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. [Smyrnæans 8]

Here is the emphasized line in Greek (from TextExcavation), again with Catholic Church in bold:

οπου αν φανη ο επισκοπος, εκει το πληθος εστω, ωσπερ οπου αν η Χριστος Ιησους, εκει η καθολικη εκκλησια.

I would take the time to provide a word-for-word translation of the entire excerpt, but it’s not really necessary for this discussion. There are online lexicons and translators for that purpose, so if you are not familar with Greek, now might be a good time to check out some of these tools.

εκκλησια

Let’s start with the noun in this phrase. This is the less controversial of the two words. Almost always rendered in English as ‘church’, the word ekklēsía really just means assembly or gathering, as in a group of people assembled together. It was the term used to refer to the principal assembly of the Athenian democracy over 400 years before Christ walked the Earth. So, which assembly of believers Ignatius is talking about? Since the letter was written for the Chirstians in Smyrna, is he only referring to that assembly? Obviously, no. Ignatius clarified his message by modifying this noun with the adjective καθολικη.

καθολικη

This adjective is actually a combination of two root words: κατά (katá) + ὅλος (hólos). According to Strong’s Concordance, κατά (2596) is a preposition that can have various meanings, such as “down from”, “throughout”, and “according to”. Likewise, ὅλος (3650) is an adjective that means “all”, “whole”, or “entire”. Note how the words are combined into a single adjective, καθολικη. When used to modify the word ekklēsía, one might read the phrase as “according to the entire assembly” or “throughout the whole church”. It requires no stretch of thought to see why the word “universal” is used in translation.

To take this one step further, please note the spelling of the word. The suffix identifies the word’s declension, which is a fancy way of saying number, case, and gender in a single word. Taking a glance at the Wiktionary entry for καθολικός, we can easily determine that for three grammatical cases, this variant of the word modifies a female noun (which εκκλησια is) and is singluar. Ignatius is talking about one church. This implies a level of unity beyond that of the local church and her bishop. Ignatius did not consider the Christian communities to be a loose federation of independent congregations, at least when it came to matters of faith.

Another Look

Now that we have examined the key words in question, let’s reconstruct the line in English based on the Greek above. Again, I am not going to explain every word as they can easily be referenced online. I used the Greek Dictionary Headword Search engine in the Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University to translate the line as follows:

The place where lights the bishop, there the multitude is one; even as, where is Christ Jesus, there is the whole assembly throughout.

Ignatius is clearly drawing an analogy that makes perfect sense in his plea for the Churches in Asia to remain in unity with their respective bishops who are, themselves, in unity insofar as the teaching of the faith is concerned. What’s more, this concept of the whole assembly of believers being ever-present with Christ is an expression of what Mircea Eliade would call sacred time and space, though whether Ignatius intended to convey this idea or if it was a product of divine inspiration will be left for discussion at another time.

Word Usage

Some make the argument that Ignatius coined the word καθολικη, based primarily on the observation that the word is not used in the Bible to describe the Church…in fact, it doesn’t appear at all in the Bible. (Such people also tend to be Fundamentalist Christians who only know the word “Catholic” as a proper name and who want to prove that the Church’s universal authority is illegitimate by claiming that Ignatius invented the word after the age of the Apostles and therefore it isn’t “Biblical”.) However, if the word καθολικη (or more properly, καθολικός) existed prior to the time of Christ and the Apostles (and was even found to be commonly used), then there should be instances of it in other Greek texts that predate the New Testament. Whether or not these texts are part of Sacred Scripture is, of course, immaterial, but it never hurts to start there.

The words κατά (2596) and ὅλος (3739) both appear numerous times in the New Testament (480 and 1411 respectively). The word καθό (2526), which means “according to”, is found four times (Rom 8:26, twice in 2 Cor 8:12, and 1 Peter 4:13). The word καθόλου (2527), which is an adverb meaning “entirely” or “at all”, is found once, in Acts 4:18: they instructed them not to teach at all in the name of Jesus. Browsing through Hatch & Redpath’s 1897 Concordance to the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), a similar pattern emerges: many references to the root words, a handful to καθό and καθόλου, and none for καθολικός. So, the root words and some similar words appear in the Bible, but the specific usage we are seeking here is not present.

A search of other Greek texts proves to be more fruitful. Again, using the Greek Dictionary Headword Search engine in the Perseus Digital Library, a search for words starting with καθολ resulted in over sixty hits across eleven works. Nine instances were found in the Histories of Polybius (200-118 B.C.), two of which concern making a “general assertion” (καθολικῆς ἀποφάσεως). The geopgrapher Strabo (63 B.C.-A.D.24; thus immediately prior to Jesus’ public ministry) used it in his work on Geography. The excerpt …ὥστ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ἔνεστι καθολικῶς εἰπεῖν ἐπὶ τῶν ἀπεριλήπτων τὸ πλῆθος… [Strab. 17.3] is translated in the accompanying English translation as “…so that it cannot be asserted generally of places indefinite in number…”, but could probably be reduced to “…it cannot be generally said…” So much for the notion that Ignatius was the original inventor of this word.

There are examples of the word being used by writers contemporary to Ignatius as well. The Stoic Philosopher Epictetus (A.D. 50-135) used the word six times in his Discourses. One sample drawn from that work is καθολικοῦ μέμνησο [book2, chapter 2], which is rendered in the accompanying English version as “Remember, then, the general rule…” but which could probably be simplified as “Remember generally…”. In a work called Tetrabiblos by Claudius Ptolemy (A.D. 100-170; yes, the same Ptolemy famous for his geocentric model of the universe), there can be found thirteen separate instances of the word with usages similar to those found in Polybius, such as to describe a calling, a custom, etc. Two more instances can be found in M. Antonius Imperator Ad Se Ipsum by Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180). And so on and so forth. Even if the Perseus Digital Library contains a complete collection of ancient Greek texts, there is proof enough that the compound word καθολικός was common in ancient Greek texts, making Ignatius’ single use of it even less extraordinary.

Incidentally, the largest number of search hits (21 occurences) arose from the Church History according to Eusebius (~A.D. 260-341), six modifing the “assembly” (same usage as Ignatius), four in reference to letters or letter writers (i.e. epistles, as in the Catholic Epistles of Peter, Jude, James, and John), and the remainder modifying various other words to describe general knowledge, direction, order, etc. So, while this adjective was starting to grow in usage, it was still not used to refer exclusively to the Church, even in the Fourth Centruy writings of the Church Fathers.

Conclusion

Ignatius was not attempting to give a name to a universal church, or to coin a new phrase, but was simply using a common adjective to describe the collective of all Christian believers everywhere. In the long run, of course, that is what eventually happened. “Catholic Church” is a proper name that, today, specifically identifies an assembly of people around the world that is rooted in a common belief, and whose “headquarters” (if you want to call it that) is located in Rome. It is slightly more complicated than that, of course, because the Roman Church is just one of many that belong to this more universal collection of Churches, but then, this makes Ignatius’ message even more understandable for modern Catholics.

Addendum: New Questions

Doing this research has brought to mind two additional questions that will make for some interesting study in the future.

First, at what point in history did the word ‘Catholic’ become part of the proper name of the Church, and thus an adjective that exclusively associates whatever it modifies as belonging to the same? One might expect to find this usage prevailent in the writings of the Protestant Reformers and possibly even in Catholic writings in the years leading up to the Reformation. I have seen some claims online that explain how the Church didn’t have to qualify itself as Catholic until Protestant thought became widespread and uncontrollable. Perhaps this was the same reason καθολικός became so popular amongst the Church Fathers, as they were often combating the early heresies and wrote about how these strange beliefs contradicted the Church’s universal teachings.

Second, why does καθολικός not appear in Sacred Scripture? This may be much harder to answer, as it requires a deep understanding of ancient Greek and how the language evolved over time. It may have to do with the level of sophistication with which the various authors wrote. All of the examples given above where the word appears are from works written by scholars, philosophers, scientists, and even an Emperor! Their education, and thus their, command of the Greek language was undoubtedly superior to those common men who roughly incribed the stories of the Apostles while in hiding for fear of Roman persecution. Likewise, translation of ancient Hebrew writings, most of which had already been passed from age to age as oral traditions, into Greek may have dictated the use of simple language.

Perhaps these questions have already been answered in some scholarly works just waiting for me to discover.


March 15, 2017

Ignatius’ Asian Epistles

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Synopsis

Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr of the early Church, wrote to several Churches in Asia, imploring the faithful to remain united with the teachings of their bishops.

Authorship

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, while imprisoned and in transport to Rome in about the year A.D. 108, wrote letters to several Christian communities in Asia. Three of these letters (to the Churches in Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles) were written while he was imprisoned in Smyrna, and two (to the Churches in Philadelphia and Smyrna) were written after he was transported to Troas. Full authenticity of the contents of these letters is not generally accepted; however, the most egregious embellishments can be identified and removed using copies of the letters from different ages and sources. The original letters and contemporary copies have been lost to antiquity.

Summary

The following is a summary of the major points addressed in each letter:

Ephesians Magnesians Trallians

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Ephesians
  • Praise of their Bishop
  • Praise of their Deacon, others
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Denounce hypocrisy
  • Be an example through prayer and works
  • Give thanks to God often
  • Statement on faith and love
  • Statement on silence
  • Warning against false doctrine
  • The advent of Christ
  • Promise to write again
  • Request for prayers

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Magnesians
  • Praise of their Bishop, Priests, Deacon
  • Honor the bishop despite his youth
  • Disobedience mocks God, earns death
  • Remain united with your Bishop
  • Avoid Judaizing
  • Be united in doctrine and deed
  • Request for prayers

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Trallians
  • Be subject to the Bishop
  • Honor the Deacons
  • Humility in writing
  • Avoid heresy
  • Avoid temptation
  • History of Christ
  • More praise of the Trallians
  • Request for prayers
Philadelphians Smyrnæans

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Philadelphians
  • Praise of their Bishop
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Avoid schismatics
  • Request for prayers
  • Avoid Judaizing
  • Praise of the Gospel over the Law
  • End of persecution
  • Thanks to certain persons

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Smyrnæans
  • Avoid heresy, which leads to death
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Honor the bishop
  • A word of thanks
  • Request to sent message to Antioch

Observations

Pauline Style. The style in which Ignatius writes is strikingly similar to that used by Paul. An elaborate greeting, followed by some commentary on the community to which he is writing, followed then by some order of business to discuss, etc. Compare the contents of the first three Ignatian epistles to, say, the opening paragraphs of 1st Corinthians.

The Saint John Connection. All five churches are in western Asia (modern-day Turkey). Three of the churches (Ephesus, Smyrna, and Philadelphia) are of the seven mentioned in the Apocolypse of Saint John (a.k.a. the Book of Revelation). Patmos, the island where John was exiled, is just off the coast. Tradition tells us that John wrote his three (Biblical) epistles while living in Ephesus and his Apocolypse while on Patmos. Both Ignatius (Bishop of Antioch) and Polycarp (Bishop of Smyrna) are believed to have been disciples of John.

Unity. The underlying theme running throughout Ignatius’ Asian epistles is the importance of unity within the Christian communities. To Ignatius, this was manifest in maintaining unity with “the bishop and the presbytery” (the latter referring to the collection of priests that serve the bishop of course). This is an extension of Paul’s proclamation that there should be no divisions amongst Christians (1 Cor. 1:10+).

Ignatius uses strong words to emphasize this urgent need for unity. He likens obedience to the bishop to obedience to Christ himself and declares that the disobedient man separates himself from the Church and thereby condemns himself. Consider the following exceprts:

It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ…that by a unanimous obedience you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing, and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified. [Ephesians 2]

Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. […] He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. [Ephesians 5]

It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. [Ephesians 6]

It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honor of Him who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not…the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible. [Magnesians 3]

…while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons…Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality. [Magnesians 6]

…let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ,…and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and the assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. [Trallians 3]

Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there follow as sheep. [Philadephians 2]

For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop. [Philadephians 8]

Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. [Smyrnæans 8]

In these bold words of Ignatius we find the roots of basic Catholic concepts, such as the Magisterium, the ordinary authority of the bishops, and latae sententiae excommunication, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Knowing the Community by the Bishops. While imprisoned in Smyrna, Ignatius was visited by delegations from at least three Christian communities. It is notable that these delegations included not just priests and deacons, but the local bishop as well! He apparently spent time talking with these men about their flocks and he makes it a point to mention in his letters that he “knows” them through their bishops. It may be a reflection of the translation, but his words seem to imply a deeper relationship and not just a surface knowledge of them. Consider the following excerpts:

I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus…your bishop… [Ephesians 1]

…I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters…and through [the] deacon… [Magnesians 2]

I know that you possess an unblameable and sincere mind…as Polybius your bishop has shown me, who has come to Smyrna…that I beheld your whole multitude in him. [Trallians 1]

This language reinforces the unity found within these early Christian communities and the notion that the faithful are bound up to their bishop who is not only God’s representative to them, but their representative to God and to others.

For reference, here is a list of the names of the clergy and other visitors:

  • Ephesians: Onesimus (Bp), Burrhus (Dcn), Crocus, Euplus, Fronto
  • Magnesians: Damas (Bp, Bassus (Pr), Apollonius (Pr), Sotio (Dcn)
  • Trallians: Polybius (Bp)
  • Philadelphians: unnamed bishop
  • Smyrna: Polycarp, though not named in this letter

Dissenters. Unity with the bishop and the presytery isn’t important for the sake of simple affiliation. It is the way in which the faith is preserved and transmitted. Ignatius warns the Asian Churches about several types of dissenters, those who stray from the teachings of Christ and the Apostles as it is communicated through the bishops.

The first type of dissenter is the hypocrite, one who professes to be a follower of Jesus but who does not live a life in accordance with his teachings.

For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom you must flee as you would wild beasts. [Ephesians 7]

It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts. [Ephesians 15]

It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing that they are not steadfastly gathered according to the commandment. [Magnesians 4]

Another type is the heretic, teacher of false doctrine. Some of Ignatius’ warnings are generic, as is the case with the passages below. It may be harsh to hear that heresy ultimately destroys both the heretic and his followers, but this is the same warning issued by Saint Peter in his second encyclical (2 Peter 2:1-3) and even by Christ himself (Mt 18:6, Mk 9:42, Lk 17:2).

Nevertheless, I have heard of some who have passed on from this to you, having false doctrine, whom you did not allow to sow among you, but stopped your ears, that you might not receive those things which were sown by them… [Ephesians 9]

…how much more shall this be the case with anyone who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God…such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him. [Ephesians 16]

I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that you use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. [Trallians 6]

In the category of heretics, we must include the Judeaizers who sought to bring the faithful Gentiles under the yoke of the Mosaic law. Paul writes at length about such heretics in his letter to the Galatians (the whole letter is about this) and to a lesser extent in his letter to the Ephesians (chapters 2-3). The Incident at Antioch (yes, the same Antioch in Syria where Ignatius eventually served as bishop) which led to the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) is the event that prompted Paul to issue such warnings.

Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace. For the divinest prophets lived according to Christ Jesus. [Magnesians 8]

If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day…how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their teacher? [Magnesians 9]

For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. [Magnesians 10]

But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who has been circumsised, than to Judaism from one uncircumcised. But if either…do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchres of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men. [Philadelphians 6]

Likewise, Ignatius mentions in several of the letters that there are some who believe that Jesus did not suffer and die at all, but that his body was merely an illusion. The heresy is called Docetism and its proponents would eventually come to be known as the Docetæ. Trallians 9-11 is one example, but his lengthiest treatment on this particular heresy is in Smyrnæans 2-7.

Unique to the letter to the Philadelphians, Ignatius advises the faithful to avoid those who seek to divide the Church. These dissenters are called schismatics.

If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ]. [Philadephians 3]

References

All quotes above came from the letters as they appear on NewAdvent.org.


January 23, 2017

Martyrium Ignatii

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Synopsis

The Martyrium Ignatii (“Martyrdom of Ignatius”) provides details about the trial of Ignatius of Antioch before Emperor Trajan, his transport to Rome by way of Smyrna and Troas, and his execution in the Roman arena as he was fed to the beasts.

Authorship

This account is written from the perspective of one who accompanied Ignatius from Antioch to Rome, possibly Philo, a deacon from Tarsus, and Rheus Agathopus from Syria. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, scholars generally agree that the narrative is authentic, but since the earliest reliable copy is a revision with its earliest witness in the Tenth Century, it is also believed to be highly interpolated.

Summary

Here are the main points covered in this document:

  • Ignatius, disciple of John the Apostle, was bishop of the Church in Antioch (Syria).
  • He guided his Church through the persecutions under Domitian and survived.
  • He longed for a closer relationship with Christ through martyrdom.
  • Emperor Trajan forced Christians to choose to worship Roman gods or be killed.
  • In his ninth year as Emperor, Trajan was passing through Antioch on conquest.
  • Trajan questioned Ignatius about his religious disobedience and influence.
  • When Ignatius confirmed his devotion to Christ, he was sentenced to fight the beasts in Rome.
  • He was transported from Antioch to Seleucia, and then by sea to Smyrna.
  • He visited his former disciple, Polycarp, who was now the Bishop of Smyrna.
  • He was also visited by bishops, priests, and deacons from various cities in Asia.
  • To repay their hospitality, Ignatius wrote to the cities, giving praise and instruction.
  • They sailed to Troas and Neapolis, then traveled by land to Philippi and Epirus in West Macedonia.
  • From there they sailed to Rome, skipping Puteoli; thus, Ignatius could not follow in Paul’s steps.
  • Landing in Portus, he prayed with the brethren for the end of persecution, and was thrown into the arena.
  • His bones were collected, wrapped in linen, and returned to Antioch.
  • The authors of this account assert that, after his death, Ignatius visited each of them one night in their dreams.

Observations

  • External sources seem to agree that the letters to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, and Romans were written in Smyrna, and the letters to the Philadelphians, Smyrnæans, and to Polycarp were written in Troas.
  • According to Chapter Four, this account originally included a copy of Ignatius’ letter to the Romans. (This makes sense, as the authors returned to Antioch from Rome with Ignatius’ bones, and could have obtained or produced a copy there.)

January 21, 2017

Scottish Cathedral Permits Koranic Recitation

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News broke last week about a cathedral in Scotland that permitted the recitation of a Surah from al Qur’an during the evening Epiphany service. To be clear, this was the Episcopal (i.e. Anglican) Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, not the Presbyterian (i.e. Church of Scotland) Glasgow Cathedral. I soon found some still photos and then the video on YouTube (the highest-quality copy of which has since been removed). In them a young Muslim woman stands at a lectern shaped like an eagle as she sings in Arabic. Just beyond her sit a priest and the chancel choir in the transept of a beautiful old church. The sacred vessels are prepared and the rood screen adorned with strands of twinkling electric Christmas lights.

At first, I took this to mean that the Gospel reading (at what Catholics and many Anglicans would call a “Mass”) had been replaced with the Koranic account of the Annunciation and Nativity of Jesus, which is found in the nineteenth Surah (chapter) titled Maryam (Mary). This would, of course, undermine the very purpose of attending the Service, which is to hear the Word of God, receive some practical instruction in the faith based on those readings (the sermon), give thanks to God for his salvific work through his Son (the Eucharist), and then be sent out into the world to proclaim the good news to others. The Gospel message rests at the core of this mission. It is unthinkable to supplant the very basis of a Christian’s work with a non-Christian text.

Thankfully, this was not the case. True, the recitation was made during the Eucharistic service at Epiphany, but according to Provost Kelvin Holdsworth’s blog, the Eucharistic service carried on as usual: the expression of the community’s faith in Christ, the recitation of the Nicene Creed, and the proclamation of Christ’s divinity in the Eucharistic prayers. According to Holdsworth, the purpose for allowing the recitation was not to incorporate a teaching or form of worship from another religion into their own, but to make the Muslims who were visiting for that specific celebration to feel welcome and comfortable in the church. “Frankly, we think it is a good thing that Muslims are coming to church and hearing us proclaim the Gospel of Christ.” he writes. “No-one pretends that Muslims and Christians believe the same things. We know that Muslims don’t believe in the divinity of Christ – that’s a known and accepted fact. It isn’t surprising. […] We don’t do syncretism, we do hospitality.” Besides extending hospitality, the recitation also seems to have created opportunities for open dialogue between the Muslim and Christian congregants. Holdsworth adds that the recitation of selections from al Qur’an during Christian worship services is rare, but not unheard of, noting that it had been done a few years earlier in the very same Cathedral in the presence of the Bishop during a Lessons and Carols service without nearly the same amount of publicity or backlash.

And there certainly has been backlash. This service, “regarded locally as a good event” according to Holdsworth, was subsequently reported to the general online audience in a very negative way, giving rise to many hateful responses, including serious threats against the safety of the clergy and people of Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Considering that these responses were described by Holdsworth as Islamophobic, it can only be assumed that the majority of them came from Christians angered by the Cathedral’s actions. Indeed, highly-critical opinions of this event are not difficult to find on YouTube and other sites, and Christians seem to be the ones complaining about it. It seems quite ironic that those most concerned about Muslim violence against Christians would resort to threats of violence themselves. This can hardly be considered an appropriate Christian response.

One of the chief complaints that I have seen is that the Surah that was recited that Epiphany evening is particularly anti-Christian…which is actually a fairly accurate claim. Surah 19 begins with the annunciation stories of Zechariah and Mary, similar to what is found in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, followed by some mention of Old Testament Prophets, and then a foretelling of Paradise for the righteous and the judgement and punishment in which all non-believers are condemned to a fiery eternity. One of the worst things the unbelievers proclaim about God is that he had begotten a son, because having children is something that creatures do and it is not fitting for God to have a son. Well, that’s exactly what Christians do proclaim, isn’t it? I don’t know Arabic, so I couldn’t tell for myself which verses marked the beginning and the end of the recitation, but so far I have found several blogs claim that it ended with verse 36, which is at the end of the Marian narrative. Verse 35 is the first of two that state that God should not have a son (the other being verse 92) and was therefore included.

And what does the Anglican Church have to say? Only a day or two after the Epiphany service made Internet headlines, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, a prominent figure within the Anglican Communion and expert on Christian-Muslim relations, publicly condemned the practice of reading al Qur’an during Christian worship services and even called for disciplinary action for those involved at St. Mary’s Cathedral. He plainly explains that the Surah in question promotes the nontrinitarian heresy of adoptionism, this is, the belief that Jesus was not a true son of God, but merely adopted. This heresy has been around since the Second Century. Nazir-Ali’s condemnation brings us full-circle, back the the mission of the Church and the original purpose of the Eucharistic service.

Finally, on January 13th, the Scottish Episcopal Church released a statement on the matter, first recognizing the importance of interfaith work and then pledging to explore ways to strengthen interfaith relations in the context of worship. Regarding the specific controversy at St. Mary’s, however, the Primus is leaving that up to Provost Holdsworth and the Cathedral’s faith community.


July 28, 2016

Catholic Mass Bible Readings Coverage

ShortURL: wp.me/pb7U7-1Q3


Do Catholics read the Bible? You bet they do! But some other Christians want you to think otherwise. Here’s a good lesson on how to lie with infographics.


The Accusation

Catholics are often accused of claiming to be Christian and yet not reading the Bible. In one respect this is true, because the average Catholic is less likely to sit down and read the Bible from cover to cover in the same way an Evangelical Christian might. Like anything else, Catholic and Evangelical populations could be surveyed and the results analyzed statistically, and in doing so you will likely find plenty of people who do not fit the stereotype: Catholics that read their Bibles all the time and Evangelicals that don’t.

In Reality

What Evangelicals don’t realize is that Catholics hear much more of the Bible than they read. There are four readings (OT, Psalm, NT, Gospel) assigned for each holy day of obligation (i.e. all Sundays and certain feast days). There are also three “cycles” arranged such that the Gospel of Matthew is covered in Cycle A, Mark in Cycle B, and Luke in Cycle C. The Gospel of John is spread across certain days throughout the year, but especially in the seasons of Lent and Easter.

The Infographic

A year or so ago, someone I follow on Twitter posted an infographic, which can be found here on imgur, that plots the readings throughout the liturgical the year. The imgur post includes a bit of explanatory information about how to read the graph, followed by the following note to the reader: “Notice all of the blank space. Only 14.2% of the entire bible is read during mass over the course of three years.” Yikes! Only 14.2%? That’s not a lot!

Something’s Not Quite Right

Yes, the graph shows a lot of blank space; however, notice that time is depicted on the X-axis. This means that the plotted area does not actually represent the pure volume of content. How should this graph be read then?

Assumptions

I decided to conduct a little test to see how accurate the 14.2% claim actually is. To do this, the following assumptions were made:

  1. The graph is intended to be an accurate representation of the data.
    Which is the claim being made, right?
  2. Each of the black hash marks represent one holy day.
    There are 52 Sundays and about 5 non-Sunday Holy Days of Obligation, making 57 total. The year is depicted as a 286-pixel block, which means each mark should be 5.02 pixels wide on average. Indeed, spot-checking reveals that most are either 6 or 7 pixels wide, with a few as short as 4 pixels.
  3. Each of the black hash marks represent a unique section of Scripture.
    It is unclear exactly how the volume of content is presented here. Do the marks represent whole chapters? Individual stories? Segments of verses? But it doesn’t really matter, because the next assumption is that…
  4. The height of the plotted area represents 100% coverage of Bible content.
    The plotted area is 741 pixels in height. According to multiple sources on the Web, the Protestant Bible contains 1,189 chapters, which is greater than 741, so each mark can’t represent a chapter exactly. The Catholic Bible contains a few additional books, but not enough to allow for each pixel to represent two chapters.

Method

The test required some simple graphical manipulation of the picture using a paint program (in the case I used GIMP). There were three basic steps:

  1. Remove time from the graph.
    This was done by extending each of the black hash marks to fully cover the year in which it was found. I did this for all marks in all three years, and then cut most of each year out, leaving only a thin ribbon to represent it’s coverage.
  2. Find the cumulative coverage.
    Using the layers feature, I moved a copy of each year’s content volume to form a column of combined (or cumulative) coverage.
  3. Compress the volume to determine percentage.
    This was tedious, but I removed all blank space between the bands of black on a copy of the cumulative column, resulting in a 315-pixel bar, and placed it on top of a grey, 741-pixel tall background.

The Result

My cumulative coverage columns are shown to the right of the original graph below. The columns for Cycles A, B, and C are labeled accordingly, the combined coverage column is labeled with a Sigma, and the percentage coverage column with a percent sign. The result is that a whopping 42.5% of the Bible is read during Mass on Sundays and Holy Days alone.

Lectionary_Coverage

Notice that there is essentially full coverage of the Gospels over three years, nearly full coverage of the rest of the New Testament, a heavy concentration on certain Old Testament books (e.g. Genesis, Exodus, major prophets like Isaiah), and lighter coverage on books that even Protestants don’t pay much attention to (e.g. Numbers, Kings, Chronicles, minor prophets, etc.).

Conclusion

The poster’s claim that only 14.2% of the Bible is read during days of obligation is incorrect. This is obviously not a perfect test, because there are a lot of assumptions and unknowns about how the original author is depicting the data; however, the margin between 14.2% and 42.5% is far too wide to be simple error.

Is the imgur poster trying to mislead you, assuming you will simply take the graphic at face value? Maybe. I have considered the possibility that the 14.2% claim was based on the percentage of the plotted area covered by black pixels, in which case the poster actually misinterpreted the graph. It is not clear whether or not the person who posted the graphic on imgur and the author of the graphic are the same person.

Wait, There’s More…

This infographic covered readings for holy days on which Catholics are required (yes, not expected, but required by Church law) to attend so that they may hear them, live them, and share them with others. What is not covered are the readings for the rest of the week! Most Catholics don’t attend daily Mass, but those that do will hear even more of the Bible! You can visit the Liturgy page on the USCCB website for more details on that.


April 15, 2016

Why Christians Hate Religion

Filed under: Christianity,Religion — Brandon @ 4:58 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

ShortURL: http://goo.gl/2LxbKj


The word religion has gotten a bad reputation lately, not with atheists, but with Christians! I decided it was time to find out why. To quote the famous words of Inigo Montoya, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”


Haters Gonna Hate

Search for the hashtags #ihatereligion, #religionstinks, and #godhatesreligion on Twitter, Facebook, and even Instragram, and you will find posts (to use the term generically) from a variety of people stating why they hate religion. The reasons are often specific and the language quite emphatic. At a high level, the vast majority of the posters can be classified as belonging to one of two broad groups of people.

Atheists. As one might easily guess, Atheists comprise the first group. Some just want to rant, often targeting Christianity or Islam explicitly. The bases for their opinions are not new: religion is a collection of fairy tales, religion contradicts science, religion is only good for starting wars, etc. Others have simply lost their faith and deny God, usually because they are suffering from a great loss. Ever hear someone ask how a loving god could possibly allow something so awful (e.g. cancer, terrorism, etc.) to exist? But today I’m not interested in exploring why Athiests hate religion. It’s expected. It’s what they do. It’s in the name.

Christians. It’s the second group of posters that seems counterintuitive: Christians! After all, wouldn’t most people classify Christianity as a religion? This notion isn’t exactly new. You may remember a viral video released by Christian evangelist Jefferson Bethke in 2012 titled Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus. With almost 31 million views to date, it is still available on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. I’d really like to decompose the content of that video, but that’s a post for another day. Bethke’s message is that religion always interferes with one’s ability to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The aforementioned posts sing pretty much the same tune. By the way, there are a good number of evangelical pastors that exude this message on social media channels, constantly re-enforcing the hate rhetoric amongst their followers.

On a side note, I really expected to see more posts from the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd, not so much the New Age followers, but the disenchanted Christians who for one reason or another have given up on church, but can’t bring themselves to totally give up on God. Common reasons for holding this position include hypocrisy within the church organization to which they belong and sheer boredom with the routine they’ve been forced to keep since childhood with no perceived benefit. Sometimes they claim to hate “organized” religion. Even if they really do hate religion, they don’t seem to be very vocal about it. You are more likely to hear them express their non-religiosity when you extend an invitation to attend a worship service.

What Is Religion Anyway?

It seems appropriate that if you are going to hate something so badly that you have to tell the world about it, then you should at least understand what it is first. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the case with our Christian hater friends. Let’s take a moment to examine the meaning of religion and get a feel for what it really means to be religious.

Etymology. When it comes to defining words, I always like to start by studying their etymological origins. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, religion is derived from French and Latin, and is defined by words and phrases like devotion, respect for the sacred, reverence, conscientiousness, moral obligation, faith, and worship. Given these definitions, it is hard to understand why any Christian would object to religion, since these words describe Christians of just about any stripe. Faith is obviously an important Christian concept, and any Christian excited about their faith will likely self-identify as being devoted to Christ. Christians worship in a variety of ways, some traditional, some contemporary (some with rock concerts). And based on the parables of Jesus, Christians generally agree that they are under a moral obligation to love their neighbors as themselves, even if they don’t believe it is required for salvation. Next, let’s examine how the word has been used by various writers throughout time.

Cicero (45 B.C.). In writing on the nature of the [Roman] gods, Cicero wrote, “Piety, as with other virtues, cannot exist as a pretense (i.e. an outward display only). Without piety, sanctity and religion must be eliminated, leading to a life of turmoil and great confusion.” [De Natura Deorum, Book I, Chapter 2] In this case, Cicero uses the word religionem, which can be translated as: conscientiousness, sense of right, moral obligation, duty. This agrees with the French usage explained above. It is noteworthy that Cicero distinguishes between those who offer an abundance of prayers and sacrifices for something (in the case of this text, for the long lives of their children) as a superstitious people and those who carefully read (and reread, i.e. study) about those things which the gods require in worship as being religious. The former are admonished and the latter praised. [De Natura Deorum, Book II, Chapter 28] Here, Cicero uses the word religiosi, meaning one who is devout, which again agrees with the etymology described above. [Please note, I am referencing Cicero only because his works are often cited to show how the English word ‘religion’ was derived from Latin. The fact that he writes in the context of a pagan religion is irrelevant to the usage and meaning of the word itself.]

Lactantius. Lactantius was an early Christian writer and advisor to Emperor Constantine. His work The Divine Institutes outlines the false worship of gods and the false wisdom of the philosophers, and then expounds upon true wisdom and religion, justice, worship, and how to lead a happy life. Like Cicero, Lactantius distinguishes between religion as the cultivation of truth and superstition as the cultivation of that which is false. He goes on to say that how one worships (e.g. which prayers are used) is not important in comparison to what one worships (i.e. the pagan gods vs. the one true God). In disagreement with the notion that being religious must come from learning, however, Lactantius claims that religion is derived from the bond of piety. God is, after all, our master and father, and deserves our full obedience. [Divinarum Institutionum, Book IV, Chapter 28]

Augustine (426 A.D.). Saint Augustine also employed religio to mean duty to God. In the tenth book of The City of God, Augustine explores the words that one might use to describe man’s duty to serve God alone. [De Civitate Dei, Book X, Chapter 1] Two chapters later, when commenting on Matthew 22:37-40, he says this about the love of neighbor: Hic est Dei cultus, haec vera religio, haec recta pietas, haec tantum Deo debita servitus (translated: Here is worship of God, here true religion, here right piety, here the service due only to God). Wait, did he just say ‘true religion’ and ‘God alone’? Evangelical Fundamentalists are often taken aback when they hear such words attributed to a Catholic patriarch; after all, shouldn’t Augustine be writing about worshiping statues of Mary and other such abominations? Maybe he too was spiritual but not religious, right? Wrong. In fact, he wrote a work titled On True Religion shortly before becoming a Catholic priest (390 A.D.). Primarily an appeal for the Christian faith to the Manicheans, it mentions much about religious rites and Christian discipline, and even the exclusion of members of other religious sects from the Catholic communion on the grounds that they differ in doctrine, despite similarities in their rituals. [De Vera Religiones, paragraph v,9]. Another point made by Augustine [paragraph x,19] with which many Christians would agree is this: “Don’t serve the creature instead of the Creator or have empty thoughts. That is perfect religion (perfecta religio est)“. Finally, he exhorts “Let religion bind us to the one almighty God” (religet nos religio uni omnipotenti Deo). In this last quote, Augustine clearly agrees with Lactantius that religion is more than mere duty, but a binding relationship with the Lord.

Thomas Aquinas (~1260 A.D.). In addressing the question as to whether or not religion directs man to God alone, Saint Thomas cites both Cicero and Augustine, explaining their various opinions, but reasons further that regardless of how the word evolved, it clearly denotes a relationship with God. Not only should be bind ourselves to God, and continually seek him, but we should always strive to recover the relationship with him that we lose whenever we sin. [Summa Theologica II-II, Q 81 A 1]

Modern Usage. Take a sample of definitions from modern dictionaries and you will find that the first definition will almost always refer to a belief (and worship) in a supernatural power (in a god or set of gods). This definition is usually followed, if not immediately, by a reference to rituals, ceremonies, observances, practices, teachings and rules. According to the same Online Etymology Dictionary article cited above, the English definition of a “particular system of faith” actually dates back to as early as 1300 A.D., not long after Aquinas wrote the Summa.

Ecclesiastical Usage. When the Church refers to someone being religious, it typically means that the person is a member of a religious order, living apart from society and according to a particular devotion. This refers, of course, to monks, nuns, and brothers and sisters in religious communities. These people bind themselves to God voluntarily in daily prayer and recitation of Scripture, and they make God the focus in every aspect of their everyday lives. The local parish priest is typically not a religious in accordance with this definition, though some parishes are run by, say, Dominican priests or Third Order Franciscans, to give two examples. Again, the notions of duty and binding, and even the concept of drawing oneself closer to God through re-reading are all present.

Pope Leo XIII (1885 A.D.) Returning to the modern meaning of religion as a particular set of beliefs, Pope Leo XIII had the following to say while examining the relationship between religion and the state:

To hold, therefore, that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads in the end to the rejection of all religion in both theory and practice. And this is the same thing as atheism, however it may differ from it in name. [Immortale Dei, 31]

Clearly, this is a refutation of religious pluralsim, but it contains within it a basic principle born out of our own human nature: religious practice keeps man close to God. To keep from wandering into disbelief, man must find some way to bind himself with the Lord, and this binding, as we have seen in the previous excerpts, is itself religion.

Still Hating?

From what we’ve read above, it doesn’t sound like religion is a bad thing at all. In fact, it sounds like an essential part of maintaining a right relationship with God. So where does the negative connotation come from?

Without an exhaustive study of religious literature, it would be hard to pinpoint exactly when this mentality become popular, but traces of it can clearly be seen in American Christianity and the revival movement starting in the mid- to late-1800s. In order to demonize Catholicism, Christian writers and preachers (who were either ignorant of or chose to ignore everything we’ve covered thus far) have since gone to great lengths to paint the Church as a corrupt organization with satanic intentions and superstitious practices designed to achieve nothing but to keep its members as far from God as possible. This certainly shines through in works like Ellen G. White’s The Great Controversy (1888) and Loraine Boettner’s Roman Catholicism (1962). One might even successfully argue that these sentiments can be traced directly to Martin Luther. One quote attributed to Luther seems to use the word religious in the pejorative: “The Pope is a mere tormentor of conscience. The assembly of his greased and religious crew in praying was altogether like the croaking of frogs, which edified nothing at all.” If the hate for religion was seeded in Protestantism, it has been most effectively fertilized in Christian Fundamentalism.

Extreme Thinking

I will close with this thought. If religion is binding oneself voluntarily to God, then it is perfected in Heaven where his will is done perfectly. Only in Hell is one truly free from religion, as no creature therein has ever chosen to bind themselves to him, for if they had, then they would not be there presently. In the end analysis, all hate originates from one source.


October 3, 2015

Year’s Minds Calendar

Filed under: Christianity — Brandon @ 5:46 pm
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ShortURL: http://goo.gl/67Lpa1


“Year’s mind” is the commemoration of a deceased member of the faithful on the anniversary of his or her death. This is often a celebration of the Holy Mass (a requiem), or may simply be a formal prayer ritual. Strictly speaking, this commemoration is held one year after death, though it is not uncommon that some formal remembrance be made on the anniversaries thereafter. Certainly, it is the duty of all faithful Catholics to keep the souls of the departed in their prayers, whether or not they are in need of intercession. Prayer is never wasted as a result of our simple ignorance, and the graces dispensed for this act of spiritual mercy will flow to whoever needs it as God sees fit.

What better way to remind yourself to pray for your loved ones than to set up a year’s mind calendar in your calendar software? Many people record birthdays, and this works basically the same way. It can be recorded as an all-day event or a 10-minute appointment with God — either way, the important thing is that it catches your attention and brings you to prayer. Added bonus: set it up as an annually recurring event and you won’t have to remember to copy your calendar each year.


June 26, 2015

The Great Controversy

ShortURL: http://goo.gl/y74v3q


I picked up a 1950 edition of Ellen G. White’s The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan at the used book shop for only a few dollars, primarily because it includes a few chapters on Martin Luther. After doing a little research, I found that this work (and other works by White and her husband) contains foundational material in the formation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Despite its 689 pages from Preface to Appendix, I plan for this to be a quick read. Thus, a brief synopsis of each chapter must be sufficient for my notes.

Note: This post falls into the Christianity category only because the Seventh-day Adventists self-identify as followers of Christ. I am well aware that they are considered a heretical cult by the rest of Christendom.


Synopsis & Observations

Preface. The publishers provide introspection and offer praise for White’s work.

Introduction. White begins with a short primer on the Bible, the infallible revelation and authoritative word of God. Citing that the Holy Spirit will not (cannot?) operate in contradiction to the Bible, she chastises those who, by their enlightenment, follow the Spirit and no longer need the Word. As the ‘controversy’ builds, this book is offered as a historical view that should help the reader come to a right understanding of what the future holds.

Chapter 1: The Destruction of Jerusalem. This chapter begins with Jesus atop the Mount of Olives, surveying the City of Jerusalem below and weeping. It ends with the city’s destruction. The story underlines the consequences for the apostasy of the Jews, the complete and utter destruction of their Holy City and its Temple. The wrath of God left Jerusalem in control of the leader chosen by her inhabitants, who was Satan. (p.28) Yet, not one Christian perished because they had heeded Jesus’ warning, and fled when they saw the signs of the impending invasion. (p.30)

  • White quotes several times The History of the Jews, which was authored by The Very Reverend Henry Hart Milman (Anglican clergyman and Oxford professor) and published in 1829.
  • White’s account mirrors certain passages in The Last Days of Jerusalem by another English scholar, Alfred J. Church.

Chapter 2: Persecution in the First Centuries. The first Christians were tortured mercilessly and many killed by the Romans, often as a result of false charges brought against them. Martyrs were not only secure in Christ, but their sacrifices strengthened their fellow believers and resulted in the conversion of many to the faith. Satan could not win by force, so he decided to try deception. “The great adversary now endeavored to gain by artifice what he had failed to secure by force.” (p.42) Persecution ended and was replaced with comfort and privilege. The Christian church started compromising its faith for the sake of the idolaters who were joining their ranks, thereby forming a union with pagans. The Christian faith is popular today because it is in such close alignment with the sinful ways of the world.

  • Tertullian’s Apology (¶50) is quoted.
  • The charge of idolatry in this chapter is aimed directly at Catholics: “Although the worshipers of idols professed to be converted…they still clung to their idolatry, only changing the objects of their worship to images of Jesus, and even of Mary and the saints.” (p.43)
  • Ananias and Sapphira are used as examples of the types of sinners who infiltrated the early Church.

Chapter 3: The Apostasy. Once Christianity was established as the religion of the state by Constantine, it was the Roman Church that Satan used as his instrument to compromise the faith. “The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, foretold the great apostasy which would result in the establishment of the papal power. […] Even at that early date he saw, creeping into the church, errors that would prepare the way for the development of the papacy.” (p.49) Such errors were the direct work of Satan. For example, to undermine adherence to God’s law, he worked to change the primary day of worship from the true Sabbath to the pagan feast day of the Sun, first through the Jews by encouraging them to pile on unnecessary traditions on the day of rest, and then through the Christians who hated the Jews and their laws. It was Satan who brought power to the papacy as well, fulfilling prophecies foretold in the books of Daniel and Revelation. The Pope eventually claimed to be the visible head of the entire Church, took on titles that made him appear to be equal with God, and proclaimed himself to be infallible in all he decrees. Satan knew that the Bible alone could expose the Pope as the agent of Satan, so he eventually suppressed it, thereby ushering in the Dark Ages, when the Christian world experienced no intellectual progress. With the people unable to think for themselves, the Church began to preach the benefits of various physical acts for the atonement for sin: pilgrimages, penance, relic worship…even payments of money to the Church! Ancient (forged) documents started to emerge, supporting all sorts of strange beliefs. First came the belief in the immortal soul of man, which is not mentioned in the Bible. This led to the concept of sainthood and the veneration of ordinary people, such as Mary. Then, there came the notion that the soul is to be punished before entrance into Heaven, which the Church called Purgatory, and which added to the acts of atonement the selling of indulgences. This ultimately made the Church rich. Finally, the simple ordinance of the Lord’s Supper was replaced by the sacrifice of the Mass, which gives the Roman priest the (perceived) power to create God from the earthly elements of bread and wine.

  • The rhetoric used in this chapter is largely the same as that used by Christian Fundamentalists today, with a few modifications. For example, the words human theories and traditions are used instead of the more familiar traditions of men.
  • White pulls no punches with regard to Rome or the Pope: “…and having thus rejected Christ, [the Church] was induced to yield allegiance to the representative of Satan – the bishop of Rome.” p.50
  • She refers to the Roman Catholic Church as “that gigantic system of false religion”. (p.50) (I can’t help but wonder if, in modern days, she might have opted for the word ginormous.)
  • The Dark Ages being the result of the suppression of the Bible is supported by Hosea 4:6: my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
  • The prophecies mentioned above refer to the Dragon (Rev 13:2) and the 1,260 years of tribulation (Dan 7:25, Rev 13:5-7, Rev 12:6).
  • Several other points are supported with references to Catholic documents, though based necessarily on her interpretation of their meanings.

Chapter 4: The Waldenses. During its reign, Rome persecuted those who chose not to hold her beliefs and dogmas. Not only were the writings of dissenters destroyed, but so were the records of their persecutions. This extended even to Britain, the farthest reaches of the Empire. Christians fled first from Rome and then from pagan Saxon invaders, protecting all along the pure Christian doctrine from defilement. Rome sent missionaries to convert the heathen Saxons. When the primitive Christians were discovered and refused to follow the Pope, they were threatened with violence by the Pope’s representative.

  • The Wikipedia article on the History of Christianity in Britain provides a sufficient backdrop for the period covered in the first part of this chapter, particularly the sections on the Celts and Anglo-Saxons.
  • According to history, as Rome withdrew from Britain and the Saxons invaded, the Church there was replaced with pagan Germanic polytheism.
  • Saint Columba, Abbott of Iona (Scotland), is mentioned by name. White claims that one of his missionaries was an observer of the Bible Sabbath, and since Iona was a center of learning, this “truth” was known amongst the people.
  • The Pope’s representative (White uses the word emissary) was Saint Augustine of Canterbury.

Chapter 4 is not complete. More to come…


April 8, 2015

Luther Rap

ShortURL: http://goo.gl/SgXKUd
Home > My Research > Religion/Philosophy > Lutheranism > After Luther > Luther Rap


While searching for documentary material on YouTube, I stumbled across two rap songs written from the perspective of Martin Luther. They amused me so, that I decided to share them here.

Note: the titles below are the links to the YouTube videos.


Luther Rap

Simply titled Luther Rap, the first video was uploaded in 2011 by one Ryan Gerlach, who is listed (at the time of this writing) as pastoral intern at Saint Stephen Lutheran Church in Longwood, Florida. There are no credits on the video, but Gerlach is the star, and if I’m not mistaken, the part of Philipp Melanchthon is played by St. Stephen’s Outreach Pastor, Jared Witt. Much of the footage is taken from the 2003 movie Luther starring Joseph Fiennes.

The song is a narrative. Biographical events highlighted include Luther’s call to the priesthood, the nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses, and the Diet of Worms. The lyrics are well-written, not contorted as is common in amateur raps. The production value of this video is really very good too! There are three lines for which sound bites from the movie were injected. I suspect there was some time stretching involved, but the timing of the cuts is impeccable. Similarly, riffs sampled from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise were integrated seamlessly as well.

As much as I enjoyed the video in its own right, the best thing about it is that it exposes common misunderstandings about what indulgences are and how they work. The lyrics are freely available in the YouTube posting, but I want to highlight a few stanzas:

And so I became a priest, I started to preach and teach
But things that I was seeing were stifling me
People dropping Benjamin’s to be forgiven of their sins
buying up indulgences, man is this what salvation is?

Been spending most my life trying to buy my way to Jesus Christ
Been spending most my life trying to buy my way to Paradise

Church demanding money
Money to atone
Says the only way to heaven is indulgences alone
Sorry Mr. Pope if this disturbs you on your throne
But the bible that I’m reading says by faith and faith alone

There are three major problems with what is said here:

  1. The most glaring is that indulgences have nothing to do with the forgiveness or sins or the attainment of salvation. Forgiveness comes when one has repented of sin and has been reconciled with God. In faith and hope, Catholics believe that by being in that state of friendship with God at the time of death, they will be saved from eternal punishment. Indulgences only satisfy the temporal penalties of sin. In other words, receiving an indulgence when one is unrepentant and bound for eternal punishment anyway makes no difference whatsoever.
  2. Indulgences are never to be sold. The sale of spiritual benefits for a temporal price is a grave sin known as Simony, named for Simon Magus (Acts 8). An indulgence may be granted following a sincere act of charity, but it is done so as a reflection of God’s mercy and not as a product or guarantee.
  3. Finally, the Bible does not say that salvation comes through faith alone. The word alone is often added after the clause through faith in Ephesians 2:8, which implies a duality where none actually exists. Moreover, James 2:24 states explicitly, “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone (NIV; emphasis added).

This, of course, begs the question as to whether Martin Luther himself understood indulgencies or if it was those who came after him that introduced this common ignorance.

95 Theses

The qualities of the second video, 95 Theses by Xander Dominitz, are not so…er, well..redeeming. Production value is the high point on this one. It looks like a well-produced student video, something one might expect from a college senior film project. Some segments showing the rapper share some of the same techniques used by the Beastie Boys in many of their notoriously low-budget videos. There are scenes filmed in a Medieval setting, with an old church building and period dress, but most of the interactions between the characters are of such an intimate nature (mostly glances exchanged), that it is highly unlikely that they are derived from any real historical account. I don’t recall, for example, Luther getting in a fist fight with other clergy at the entrance of the church (not that it couldn’t have happened, but I find it doubtful). The lyrics are not contrived so much as they don’t possess nearly the same literary value as those in the first video. They just make Luther sound angry, bitter, and outright offensive. Telling Rome to “eat my Diet of Worms!” adds nothing to the meaning of the song, and (IMHO) makes the whole project seem incredibly childish, as does “Don’t you never underestimate the s*** that I done.” Somehow, I think that Martin Luther would not be amused at this portrayal of himself, not to mention the rapper calling his wife “my sexy little nun”. If I were (still) Lutheran, I’d be quite offended. Another example, the last line from the chorus (“I got ninety-five theses but the Pope aint one.”) means absolutely nothing. On the contrary, the pope is mentioned in a good number of the theses.

These two snippets are my absolute favorite of the bunch:

“Oh snap, he’s messin’ with the holy communion.”
But I ain’t never dissed your precious hypostatic union!
“One place at one time.” Well, thank you Zwingli.
Yeah, way to disregard that whole “I’m God” thingy!

But you forgot about me and my demonstration?
Like you can just create your own denomination?
We don’t like this part, so well just add a little twist.
Now we Anglican, Amish, and even Calvinist.
I gave you the power, you gone and abused it.
I gave you Gods truth, you just confused it.

These lines underscore the complete confidence that the Church founded by Christ and the Apostles had been wrong for fifteen centuries, and that it was Luther alone who finally understood the truth. This leads to a myopic view in which no other denomination can have superior doctrine, even though they are in essence taking Lutheran reforms to their logical extremes. It often seems like non-Catholics effectively (and ironically) bestow upon Luther the same charism of infallibility that they claim the Pope cannot possibly have simply because he is human. Perhaps I find this aspect the most interesting, because, as a Lutheran, I used to feel much same way.

So here are a few other bits I found interesting:

  1. In the video, Luther claims that “[Pope] Leo threatened me with Excommunication.” A declaration of excommunication is not a punishment, but a formal recognition of what has already happened. By teaching as truth something contradictory to Church Doctrine, Luther removed himself from communion with Rome. The formal recognition of this was especially necessary because, as a priest, Luther held the authority to teach.
  2. “You forgot salvation comes through faith alone.” See above.
  3. “I’m on a mission from God.” Clearly some Blues Brothers influence here, and a clear sign this is a serious message being conveyed.
  4. “Sixty days to recant…You’ve had…Goin’ on fifteen centuries?” These are two of the best lines in the song, though it’s predicated once again on the assumption that the Church is in error here.
  5. There is a scene that depicts a clergyman (a bishop?) taking an interest in a young girl and being chased off by some boys who I assume to be her brothers and their friends. I would be interested in knowing if this is based on a real account of the time or if it is an anachronistic statement regarding more recent scandals.
  6. I think it’s neat that he mentions how modern critics are so wrapped up with the delivery of the Theses, caring only “whether or not I nailed ’em or mailed ’em.”
  7. The same with the modern psychoanalysis of Luther.
  8. “Getting all up in my rosary…” Many forget that Luther was a fan of Our Lady.

All in all, this second work must be recognized for what it is, blatant anti-Catholic rhetoric produced without regard to accurately representing either history or theological thought.


March 27, 2015

Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation

Filed under: Book Reviews,Christianity — Brandon @ 4:30 pm
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Short URL: http://goo.gl/yMtNJA


Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation
This is a short review of Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation, written by Barbara A Somervill.

This is a very good biography and primer on Martin Luther. It is written for young readers, probably those of middle school age.

The book covers Luther’s early years, his formative time as a monk, and all of the major events that defined him as a Reformer. It is a quick read and very easy to understand.
There are, however, implicit anti-Catholic undertones throughout the book. For example, in describing the holy Roman empire of Luther’s youth, the land now known as Germany, the author says this:

“in the midst of personal storms, the Catholic Church offered hope. But religion also brought with it fear and dread. People commonly believed in the devil, evil spirits, and witches. […] People also feared God, whom they believed to be stern and judgmental. They dreaded the punishment they thought they deserved for their sins. The Catholic Church taught that penance, or acts that proved people were sorry for their sins, would release them from God’s eternal punishment. As a result they performed many virtuous deeds.” Pages 19-20

This excerpt makes a number of statements without actually explicitly stating any one of them. First it notes that the Catholic Church offered hope in desperate times, but the reader gets the impression that it is a false hope. It also claims that people believed in the existence of the devil and evil spirits as if this is no longer the case (when, in fact, most Christians still do believe in such things). It makes it sound as though people would be better off without religion altogether. The most direct statement regarding the church is also full of misinformation. It states that penance would deliver people from eternal punishment. I cannot verify that people at the time did or did not believe this, but this is obviously untrue. Jesus secured for us internal salvation and while we must reconcile ourselves with God, penance only helps to alleviate temporal punishment, not eternal punishment. Eternal punishment is for the unrepentant. Here is another example:

“Among Catholics, it was customary to baptize babies as soon as possible. Six out of 10 children died as infants at the time, so parents promptly fulfilled this religious practice. They believed that this and would secure their babies places in heaven.”

This statement treats baptism as an ordinance and not the reception of the one being baptized into the household of God. This sounds a lot like something my Baptist or Bible Church friends would say, because even traditional Protestants, such as Lutherans and Anglicans, practice infant baptism and believe that it holds Sacramental value.

So, while the book may be historically accurate, it seems to be somewhat biased theologically. I cannot recommend it for Catholic children without some explanation from an informed adult.

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