Brandon's Notepad

March 24, 2017

What Does “Catholic” Mean Anyway?


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 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.


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.


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.


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.

January 21, 2017

Scottish Cathedral Permits Koranic Recitation


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


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?


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.


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.


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.).


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: , , , , , ,


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.

December 22, 2014

Reformation Timeline

Filed under: Christianity,Protestantism,Religion — Brandon @ 11:39 am
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Home > My Research > Religion/Philosophy > The Reformation > Timeline

Below is a list of timelines for the movement known as the Protestant Reformation. For now, this is for reference only, but the thought of consolidating them into a definitive timeline is certainly tempting.

Source Years Description / Comments
Mark Nickens, Ph.D. 1228-1618 Tabular; very detailed; covers multiple reformers; includes historical and political entries; lots of detail for Luther.
Britannia 1486-1689 Narrative, by year; focus on English reformation
Timetoast 1309-1517 Tabular; very short and high-level, covering eight historical events leading up to Reformation
Wikipedia 1496-1660 Timeline of the English Reformation; tabular; mostly links to other Wikipedia articles
Clay McKinney 1504-1598 One entry per year; basic information; focus on Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Knox
HomiliesByEmail (Wayback) 1517-1555 One entry per year; very short; focus on Luther only

September 16, 2014


Filed under: Religion — Brandon @ 4:13 pm
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Home > My Research > Religion/Philosophy > Religion (General Topic)

Religion. It is a deceptively simple word. It means different things to different people. What does it mean to you?

I have stubbed out this page for notes as I explore the meaning of this very important word. If you would like to participate in this exploration, please tweet your thoughts to me anytime @brandonsnotepad.


After surveying the definitions of the word religion at Merriam-Webster,, Wikipedia, and others, it seems that it can be defined, at a minimum, as a belief in a higher power. Most definitions describe this belief as organized, note that it gives rise to specific ritual practices, and makes an allowance for one or more deities.


Sources consistently trace the etymology of religion through English and Old French to the Latin word religionem, which more or less refers to respect for or devotion to the sacred. This word was used early to describe monasticism, a full devotion of one’s life to God. Most sources agree that religio (nom.) is derived from religare, “to bind”, though a few other possible origins exist. This etymology could simply imply that one chooses to bind oneself to God voluntarily, but may also be interpreted to mean that reverence to God (as creator of all) is an intrinsic obligation of man (as the creature). These are not mutually exclusive, as the devout church-goer and the cloistered monk are both religious, but to differing degrees.

Negative Connotation

Religion is often used as a pejorative term, especially by English-speaking Christian Fundamentalists who wish to equate traditional Christian practices to those of the Jews in Jesus’ time. Contrast the following examples as they appeared at the time of this writing. The Online Etymology Dictionary (OED) entry for religion offers the following explanation for religio:

“respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods; conscientiousness, sense of right, moral obligation; fear of the gods; divine service, religious observance; a religion, a faith, a mode of worship, cult; sanctity, holiness”

The Wiktionary description for the same word is quite different:

“scrupulousness”, “pious misgivings”, “superstition”, “conscientiousness”, “sanctity”, “an object of veneration”, “cult-observance”, “reverence”

In this case, reverence is the very last in a series of otherwise disparaging terms. Consider the following comment from Tentmaker author Gary Amirault on the etymology of religion:

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary traces the word back to an old Latin word religio meaning “taboo, restraint.” A deeper study discovers the word comes from the two words re and ligare. Re is a prefix meaning “return,” and ligare means “to bind;” in other words, “return to bondage.” Do you still want some of that “old-time religion”?

There are two issues with this translation. First, the OED entry makes it clear that the re- prefix is used here in the intensive form; thus, it means thoroughly and not again. Second, ligare is not a Latin word for slavery, as are servitus and famulatus. If the blatant mistranslation of the words is not convincing evidence that the author intends to lead the reader to a negative connotation, then consider the last line. The phrase Old-Time Religion alludes to the Southern Gospel music and black spirituals of Nineteenth Century, evoking images of slavery in America. This excerpt is followed by the opening words of Galatians 3, the underlying premise being that religion places the Christian in spiritual chains in the same way in which the Judaizers bound believers to the Law through rituals.

December 17, 2012


Home > My Research > Eastern Philosophy & New Age > Yoga

Many Christians denounce Yoga without a second thought, and with vehemence by Fundamentalist and conservative Protestant sects; but for some reason, the question as to whether or not it is appropriate for a Catholic to practice Yoga continues to circulate on forums and call-in radio shows. There is so much information on what Yoga is that I hesitate to attempt an assimilation here, at least at the time of this writing. For now, a list of articles I’ve read on the subject will have to suffice. My primary concern as I begin this research is the instruction of Yoga in the classroom, both public and private.


Wikipedia. Of course.

Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life (Vatican). Pontifical Council’s document on the New Age.

Yoga – Is it Permissable for Christians (EWTN). A good synopsis on the Church’s position on New Age practices, including Yoga. Many Christian former-practitioners argue that it is not possible to separate the positions from the philosophy.

School Yoga Tries to Avoid Religious Controversy (AP). The Encinitas Union School District in Encinitas, CA boasts the country’s most aggressive classroom Yoga program. Schools within the district are being sued for violating the religious freedom of the students.

To Yoga or not to Yoga. Patti Maguire Armstrong lays it on the line. Lots of good terms to Google later.

How Yoga Adversely Effects Our Children. Two key quotes from this article from The Voice Magazine are as follows. “According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, yoga is purely a religious discipline of the Hindu faith.” “These false prophets of New Age religions…key manipulators know that if they can influence the impressionable mind of a child, they can capture the soul of the adult.”

In Schools, Yoga Without the Spiritual (NYT). This article carries a neutral tone overall. Can you pick out the subtle hits of pantheism and indifferentism? According to the author, one ECUSA school does not object to the chanting in Sanskrit.

Why Yoga 4 Classrooms? Making Mindfulness and Yoga Part of the School Day. More an ad than an article, this instructor integrates Yoga stretches into the students’ daily routines (as opposed to dedicating a period of time for it). This makes it far more difficult for parents who object to request that their child(ren) “sit out” the exercise, and peer pressure will almost ensure that students will participate without much thought. The post included an open invitation to a workshop held at Christ Church on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. (ECUSA).

Yoga for Health (NCCAM). This page attempts to express the scientific values of Yoga. Other than stating that in its fullness Yoga includes meditation and the adoption of a philosophy, there is no mention of spiritual aspects or benefits of Yoga.

Why Are So Many Yoga Poses Named After Animals? One theory is that both animals and yoga bring happiness. I suspect there is some other reason rooted in Hinduism, but that is subject to research.

Simple Stretching

April 28, 2011

Eastern Philosophy & New Age

Home > My Research > Eastern Philosophy & New Age

The New Age Movement, though I am by no means a follower, had a profound impact on my early life. As I study it, I see more and more of its influence on our popular culture. I have friends ensnared by it. While it is a Western movement, it borrows heavily from Eastern mystical thought, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and the like.

Conversations With God
The Enneagram
Star Wars

February 9, 2011

“Catholic” Universities

Catholic institutions of higher education are torn between the liberal secularism of modern academia and their Catholic identity. The result is often scandalous. The following is a list of events, derived primarily from headlines from online newsletters and news sites, which have crossed my desktop over time. Each can certainly be researched in more depth elsewhere.


Madonna University cancelled a speaking engagement with a Planned Parenthood employee, Christine Gannon. The engagement was sponsored by the school’s Sign Language Studies department. Ms. Gannon provides services to the deaf through Planned Parenthood. More

The HERO student organization implemented the Atticus Circle’s t-shirt campaign at Gonzaga University. More

Fr. Ryan Maher S.J., Associate Dean of Georgetown College (within Georgetown University) posted a news article with an embedded video promoting the school’s religious diversity. He states “Our job as educators and as priests is not to bring God to people, or even to bring people to God.”

The National Labor Relations Board decided that the faculty of Manhattan College could indeed unionize, because “the purpose of the College is secular and not the ‘propagation of a religious faith’.” More

Former Indiana Governor and Senator Even Bayh addressed Notre Dame students on February 24th (photos)on “the role that government and politics play in the advancement of the common good in a global economy.” Bayh is very pro-abortion, having low NRLC and high NARAL scores. More

Boston College planned to celebrate the life of pro-abortion Congressman and priest, Fr. Robert Drinan, S.J. on the evening of March 7, 2011.

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