Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Among the Rustici-Pagani

It's always interesting to go visit family and get out of the rarefied air of my profession. I get to hear lines like this from a very Catholic and very gruff relative, speaking about someone at church he finds pretentious: "I know I shouldn't judge the son of a b****." Or another more agnostic sort telling a young, fervent and stubborn evangelical relative, "When you get older, missy, you'll find there's a lot of different religions out there." Well, there's a lot of forms of governments out there, but plurality in government doesn't mean anarchy is the logical option.

I also found it interesting just how much the protestant mentality infects certain Catholic relatives. One relative who knows a bishop pretty well and who was raised Catholic pre-VII said things like the following: "I don't need to go to Mass, because it's all about my spirit"; "When I go to Mass, I'm just distracted; I hate that f****** organ; drives me f****** nuts, and so I don't go much" (the idea being it was about his experience of worship); "eh, there's no difference between churches, they're all pretty much the same"; etc. I was reminded that Catholic laity ion this country need severe doses of catechesis and evangelization (in the JPII sense).

On the Road Again...

...Should be back home later today, so blogging will pick up speed soon...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Morning at a Rural Mass

I'm visiting in-laws right now in a relatively rural part of the world. When we visit, we usually attend the local E-Free congregation across the county where certain relatives go. (Free from what? I always wonder. Certain possibilities come to mind. I find such evangelical 'worship' a bit empty, like caffeine free diet cola or 'lite rock' -- just like regular rock, only 1/3 less entertaining. Free worship -- just like regular liturgy, only 50% less reverent. Crystal Pepsi also comes to mind. Also, since there is a 25' X 45' or so flag on the wall [every Sunday, not just Independence Day weekend], I guess it's not free of dual allegiances...) This morning I decided I wanted to sleep in a little, having been up way late and having consumed much fruit of the vine and field under various forms throughout the day -- for which we give thanks.

As Fate/God/chance/luck/Pope Benedict would have it, there's a small Catholic church one block from my in-laws in this tiny tiny town. So I popped in for later-morning mass. Observations and reflections:

*The service felt very Protestant -- but I grew up Prot with high liturgy. Being rural, the church is not particularly elaborate in decoration. The hymns were things I was familiar with -- which didn't make them great.

*An altar boy wore Nike flip-flops.

*A new priest started at the congregation today, so part of the homily was an intro to who he was and whence he came, but he tied it in nicely to following God's call, etc. It wasn't a great or long sermon, but length is no indication of quality. (BTW: A relative snarkily said to me yesterday, 'I don't feel like going to hear a 45-minute sermon [at the county E-Free church] with 800 points.' Amen.)

*Even though the church and sanctuary was plain, there was of course a nice-sized crucifix. It still weirds me out, but I suppose there's no better reminder that the cross was an instrument of execution, not a clever design for a necklace.

*It's good to see young people in church, crossing themselves, saying the creed, learning the rituals.

*Tiny town, but about 150 people there for Mass this AM (plus those who attended last night's).

*I found myself not caring whether I "liked" it, or whether I was "fed," or whatever. I was there to sit, stand, kneel, recite, pray, and observe the sacrifice of the Mass.

*On that last, there was communion in two kinds; each person drank directly from a chalice at one of the three stations. Is this now common?

*Closing hymn was two verses of "America the Beautiful", which did drive me a little nuts. But at least there wasn't a flag in the sanctuary (or the church anywhere else I could see). I guess if you read the words to the hymn it's kind of prayer, and in this day and age I find the lyrics actually threatening.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Markides: Elder Paisios

I'm finding Kyriacos Markides' Mountain of Silence fascinating for many reasons. One is simply the reminder that God indeed is real and can indeed be 'found' and experienced. Stories of saints, I think, are both challenging and encouraging. Encouraging, because they suggest that you and I can indeed know God and be transformed (if we would practice Christian disciplines with regularity and sincerity). Challenging, because even if saints were born into the world just like you and I, their quality of Christian life seems so far removed from most of our experience.

The first story I would share with you from Mountain: Father Maxime is talking to Markides about the recently deceased Elder Paisios. The man was a living saint, whose mystical experience read like something out of the OT. One day he was hearing confessions for hours, and finally was exhausted and sent the people home. One man was very unhappy about this, for he had not yet had a chance to talk with Elder Paisios about an urgent matter. The man finally corralled him and said, "Father, I must speak with you, for my wife has cancer and is very ill." He was hoping that Elder Paisios would pray with him for his wife, that she might be healed. Elder Paisios gently dismissed the man with words of encouragement about his wife's condition. The man was not pleased at being denied time with Elder Paisios. When he returned home, however, he found that his wife had been healed at the precise time he was approaching Elder Paisios.

The book abounds with such stories (but it's not like, you know, a Benny Hinn thing; such stories in Mountain have the ring of truth). And as I read of them, I'm reminded of the debate we often have concerning the perception that the Orthodox withdraw from engagement with the world. For it seems the monks of Mountain -- whether at Panagia or Mt. Athos -- do much good in the 'real world' precisely through the opportunities for radical prayer afforded by their separation from the 'real world.' People healed, wars averted... What if contemplation is the highest form of action for the very life of the world? What if prayer filled us as reservoirs, and that out of an abundance God would pour us out?

More to come.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Evan Almighty Panned

Stepping back from the ledge this morning...

I haven't seen Evan Almighty yet, but was planning on waiting until it came out on DVD anyway. This well-written review pans it pretty severely.

I'm on the road for the next several days, so blogging *may* be spotty; we'll see how easy it is to get time on the family PC.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dyspepsia at the Coming Dystopia

Perhaps it's the fruit of very late nights, but I've been feeling dyspeptic about the state of the world lately. Everywhere I look I see an anti-Christian spirit and the culture of death on the march. I'm very concerned about the erosion of free speech in the West, wherein Christians' right and ability to speak is severely threatened by homosexual activists and their willing accomplices in government; about the refusal of society to let churches and pharmacists and doctors provide services and practice their professions in accord with their convictions and consciences; about the mad desire of many to follow the religion of scientism and their willingness to harvest materials from the unborn; about the unfettered desire of many to copulate without consequence and abort without conscience; about the Baby Boomers aborting much of a generation and then expecting the remainder to pay their social security; about the state promoting gambling as a functional 'stupid tax'; about moron nominal Catholic politicians; about the U.N.'s and many NGOs' desire to spread abortion far and wide; about the severe persecution of Christians around the world; about governments' desire to run most every aspect of their citizens' lives; about the subtle neo-Nazi mentality in the West that prefers euthanasia to suffering and imperfection; about public school systems pushing an anti-life and pro-gay agenda on children; about the permeation of pornography on a scale never possible before the internet; about Episcopalian heresy; about the fracturing of Christendom into a million little pieces; about Jim Wallis and other 'beyondists' who 'transcend the categories of left and right' by promoting the left; about television rotting our ability to think; about the rise of Eurabia; about the disastrous mistake that is the Bush administration; about the twilight of the glory that was Europe. And so on.

I know dark times have beset us before in history, and I know that God is Lord of history. Nevertheless, I feel like we are taking the first steps into a thousand years of darkness, that we are up against anti-Christian, pro-death juggernauts at every turn. It's as if Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World are writing themselves into each other, different as the novels are. And for such reasons, I, like the Maccabean martyrs, St. John, Tertullian and many others, find the doctrine of divine punishment comforting. One day, there will be a reckoning. Veni Domine Iesu. Until then, I'm tempted to move to Western Montana and wait it out...

Thanks for letting me rant.

How Bad is the Novus Ordo, Really?

Forgive the cartoon, which I got from some website by doing a Google image search for "Novus Ordo". (I'll take it down if enough of you are annoyed.)

This from a comment: "There is a reason that Pope Benedict is going to issue the Motu Proprio [on the Tridentine Rite] and it isn't just to attract back the SSPX. The hope is that if priests and people are familiar with the old rite as well as the new, some of the sense of transcendence of the old rite will be brought back into the new."

I think this is intriguing and perceptive, especially in an age when everybody thinks everything is about politics. And I hope it's right, for I'm all for tradition and transcendence.

The comment raised a question in my mind: How 'bad', in essence, on paper, is the Novus Ordo Mass? I realize asking such a question is difficult, since it seems to be the official, primary rite of most of the Roman church. I'm assuming most of you Catholics that read me would say that the NO itself is OK when done reverently and by the book, but that that nebulous "spirit of Vatican II" has led to abuse after heretical abuse in practice in particular parishes.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

And now for something completely different...

...Homer and Bart Convert to Catholicism!

Soloviev's The Russian Church and the Papacy

I thought I might blog more on this book, but I don't know if there is much I want to say. Catholics would like it, and the Orthodox, well, not so much. It presumes a lot of history I don't have down cold. The writing, however, is strong and engaging.

Whether it's finally compelling or not, I found most interesting his discussion of the relationship of Christology to the State, suggesting that the politics of the East were infected by the heresies of the East, with deleterious consequences. Please note, I'm not trying to annoy my Orthodox readers by posting this. I plan on returning to Markides and his positive valuation of Orthodox life shortly:

This "Orthodoxy" of the Byzantines was in fact nothing but ingrown heresy. The true central dogma of Christianity is the intimate and complete union of the divine and human without confusion or division. The logical the regeneration of social and political life by the spirit of the gospel, in other words the Christianization of society and the state. Instead of this synthetic and organic union of the divine and the human, the two elements were in turn confused or divided, or one of them was absorbed or suppressed by the other.

To begin with, the divine and the human were confused in the sacred majesty of the emperor. Just as -- in the confused thought of the Arians -- Christ was a hybrid being, more than man and less than God, so caesaropapism, which was simply political Arianism, confused the temporal and spiritual powers without uniting them, and made the autocrat something more than the head of the state without succeeding in making him a true head of the church.

Religious society was separated from secular society, the former being relegated to the monasteries while the forum was abandoned to pagan laws and passions. The dualism of Nestorius, condemned in theology, became the very foundation of Byzantine life. Or again, the religious ideal was reduced to bare contemplation, that is, to the absorption of the human spirit in the Godhead, an obviously Monophysite ideal. The moral life, on the other hand, was robbed of its practical force by the inculcation of the supreme ideal of passive obedience and blind submission to power; that is to say, of an ideal of quietism which was in reality the denial of human will and energy, the heresy of the Monothelites. Finally, an exaggerated asceticism attempted to suppress the bodily nature of man and to shatter the living image of the divine Incarnation -- a logical though unconscious application of the Iconoclastic heresy.

This profound contradiction between professed orthodoxy and practical heresy was the Achilles' heel of the Byzantine Empire. There lay the real cause of its downfall. Indeed it deserved to fall and still more it deserved to fall before Islam. For Islam is simply sincere and logical Byzantinism, free from all its inner contradictions. It is the frank and full reaction of the spirit of the East against Christianity; it is a system in which dogma is closely related to the conditions of life and in which the belief of the individual is in perfect agreement with the social and political order [Catholic Answers abridged edition, pp. 38-40].

[Irenaeus speaking] I'm not sure what I think of this; given how the East has suffered under the Islamic hordes, I winced at that last paragraph. (I think it was CS Lewis, however, who remarked that Islam is simply the greatest Christian heresy.) I also question the criticisms of asceticism; from reading Markides (and others), it seems to me that prayer is a high task that has real results in the real world. I do believe our theological beliefs have concrete effects in the real world, however, of which most people are simply unaware. (It's always interesting doing intellectual history with people and explaining to them the historical roots of what they believe and why they came to believe it.)

The following paragraph I found more compelling:

The two great historic experiments, that of the Middle Ages and that of modern times, seem to demonstrate conclusively that neither the Church -- lacking the assistance of a secular power which is distinct from but responsible to her -- not the secular state -- relying on her own resources -- can succeed in establishing Christian justice and peace on earth. The close alliance and organic union of the two powers without confusion and without division is the indispensable condition of social progress [46-47].

PS: I also think that Western historians of various stripes have consistently misinterpreted and denigrated and neglected the Byzantine Empire...

Don't Be That Guy II

Rented and watched Breach tonight, the Robert Hanssen story. He was the FBI agent who spied for the Soviets/Russians for many years until being nabbed 2/18/01 and pleading guilty 7/6/01. He was also a very devout, traditionalist Catholic and a supernumerary in Opus Dei.

The movie is solid and worth renting but not great, feeling more like a major TV production than a feature film. My chief complaint concerns the flatness of Chris Cooper's portrayal of Hanssen's Catholicism. (I like Cooper elsewhere, such as in the Bourne series; perhaps its the directing or writing, or perhaps its simply how Hanssen was.) It's not that the movie portrays Catholics as hypocrites, or even Hanssen as a charlatan; the film helps the audience feel a good degree of sympathy for Hanssen. I think what is left wanting is an exploration of how one so committed to traditional Catholicism can sin so boldly. (Perhaps it was his residual Lutheranism...)

I'm not necessarily talking about his espionage; for some reason, I didn't feel -- on a purely gut-reaction level -- that was a big deal. (I found myself thinking, even if he did get a couple KGB agents whacked, so what? They and Hanssen and everybody else in espionage are in the big leagues playing hardball for keeps. They know the rules.) I'm talking about his creepy sexual behavior: filming he and his wife and sending it to a friend; spending time discussing their lovemaking in chat rooms; being involved with pornography; hurting his family. Again, the film wasn't anti-Catholic or anti-Opus Dei, but I would have enjoyed more exploration of the man's character, psyche and devotional life -- even if that would have had to have been somewhat inferred, hypothesized and fictionalized. In short, a little more character development.

I suppose the moral of the Robert Hanssen story is: Don't be that guy. If your eye causes you to sin, grab the nearest fork. If your hand causes you to sin, fire up the table saw.

Or, given the seeming sincerity of Hanssen's beliefs, perhaps the moral is: Be that guy less and less. Even the most sincere and devoted of Christians have areas of their lives that need sincere cleansing. Hanssen's root sins seem to have been lust and pride, and I suspect many of us have struggled a little bit with being that guy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Genericness in Catholicism (and Orthodoxy? Nah.)


In my prior post, I lamented the general nature of language for God in a service I recently attended. One person commented that I'd find similar things in a lot of Catholic churches. I suspect that's true here and there, but I think that it'd be less so, given the Missal and the weight of tradition, even when they get tweaked or ignored here or there. Liturgical Protestant churches which have worship books, like the Lutheran Church with the Lutheran Book of Worship and the Anglican churches with the Book of Common Prayer, seem to admit less variation in worship. Presbyterian ministers and churches have a lot more freedom to order the service and compose the prayers, so practice varies widely from church to church, it seems. There is no prescribed worship book, to my knowledge. Of course, in "lower" churches, such as Baptist churches and non-denominational churches and pentecostal churches there seems to be almost absolute freedom (although custom and culture seem to control worship in such churches).

I'm interested in hearing from you regarding how liturgy works at your Catholic parish or Protestant congregation; is the worship generic or Trinitarian? What shenanigans have you suffered? How hard has it been for you faithful Christians of whatever stripe to find faithful worship? I'm also interested in hearing from Orthodox Christians on this, but for the life of me I can't imagine an Orthodox service being remotely generic. Whatever problems Orthodoxy may or may not have, failing to be thoroughly Trinitarian in worship is not one of them.

Reasons to Not Be Protestant #161: Genericness

We went to church on Sunday at a relatively evangelical mainline Presbyterian congregation. It was OK; the hymns were substantive and the sermon informed and informing.

I noticed something disconcerting, however, that I've seen in several Presbyterian (that is, PCUSA) churches I've attended from time to time: the corporate confession does not address the Father, but rather "God."

I know why such churches do this; masculine language for God might be considered offensive to some. But I think such a move treads not lightly into the realm of subtle heresy -- like most everything in life precipitated by good intentions. It's too generic even to be catergorized as an proper particular heresy, covering several bases all at once. It's like Ebionitism and Islam and Oprah rolled into one. (Hence the Unitarian symbol as the picture here.)

At any rate, such language implies that the Godhead is not Trinitarian. "God" is divorced from Jesus, who now remains just a prophet or, worse, someone out of whom God beat the hell in the Crucifixion, the Incarnation having been ever so subtly and subconsciously denied, and the Spirit roams unbridled through the cosmos, doing whatever it is this spirit proceeding ex nihilo does. Apparently inspiring Marty Haugen...

I also think that this isn't an abstruse matter of recondite theological hairsplitting, for our theology has practical pastoral ramifications, quite apart from the importance of speaking truthfully about God and worshipping him rightly for God's own sake. A vague god does no one any good beyond providing the insipid and uninspiring framework of Moral Therapeutic Deism; such a god leaves us in our sins and in our graves. The Holy Trinity, by contrast, rouses us from our slumber unto death, through Sacraments uniting us to Christ, bringing us into full communion with the ultimate reality that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We need enlivening, theosis, not a mere declaration that somehow some generic god is no longer miffed at us.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Context Reloaded: Reading Prophecies

Another problem with the lack of the wider contexts of Tradition and Church is the propensity of certain people to apply certain texts to whatever seems to fancy them. How one reads things like Daniel and Revelation really depends on the fundamental narrative worldview with which one approaches the texts. If one believes the Catholic narrative of world history, one will not find in them predictions that the Pope is the Antichrist, the papacy the whore of Babylon, and so on. Rather, such readings flow from a prior conviction to the narrative that the Catholic Church (or Orthodox churches, for that matter) have indeed fallen away from the true faith; it is only in that light that one can see such things in the texts, for they are indeterminate.

Consider the following. I received comments on a prior post asserting that these verses concerned the alleged apostasy of the Catholic Church:

2 Pets 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

Acts 20:29-30 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

To these one might add many other NT passages, such as 1 Tim 4:1-3: "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. " Well, Catholic priests don't marry, and Catholics (and Orthodox Christians) are required to fast from certain foods at certain times, right?

Ancient heretics did similar things, however. Applying these verses to the Catholic or Orthodox churches only works if you have a prior commitment against these churches. Certainly Catholics and Orthodox Christians would readily admit that "false prophets" and "grievous wolves" arose within the contexts of Catholicism and Orthodoxy -- Marcion, Nestorius, Sabellius, Arius, ad alios ad infinitum. But it was precisely the Church that defeated the heretics, putting the theological smack down. As far as the 1 Timothy passage, if we pay serious attention to the context of history (and not the context of fanciful anti-Catholic narratives) the reference is probably to extreme proto-Gnostic asceticism.

Asserting that such verses apply to Catholicism or Orthodoxy simply begs the question of interpretive authority, for these verses are on their face underdetermined. I would also suggest (on Irenaeus' principle of a hermeneutics of authority) that one cannot in principle use the Church's Bible against itself: (1) outsiders have no right to it; and (2) outsiders cannot know what it means apart from the Church's life and teaching.

Contexts in Biblical Interpretation

Good interpretation involves taking proper account of all the relevant contexts of an utterance, a saying, a sentence, a text, and, for our purposes, a Bible verse, for the sum of the various contexts comprises the whole which determines the meaning of the particulars. (Conversely, those particulars are the components of the whole that make the whole what it is.)

In Biblical interpretation, however, contexts often get ignored. The most egregious example I can remember? In some magazine I picked up a while after 9-11, someone had used Galatians 5.1 (“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery”) in support of the invasion of Afghanistan and the wider war on terror (Ever notice every time the US declares war on something since 1946 the US never wins or ends it? The War on Cancer, the War on Poverty, etc…). As legitimate as that action may have been, I’m pretty sure that’s not what St. Paul had in mind.

Perhaps one of the most subtly fateful things that ever happened in world history was the division of the Bible into chapters and verses, starting when Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1228), established chapter divisions and sections. (The chapters were subdivided into seven sections marked by the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Some shorter passages, such as certain Psalms, did not have seven full section). In the following decades and centuries the system evolved into our current system.) One effect of the division of the Bible into chapters and verses, however, is that many people treat the Bible as a jigsaw puzzle. Each verse is considered a discrete, eternal, and propositional self-contained unit. This is in fact how most people know their Bibles; as children, they go to Sunday School or AWANA or something similar and memorize Bible verses. The result is that context is more often than not neglected; individual verses get misapplied to different situations.

Gal 5.1 and the war on terror is only the most egregious example. Think of Jer 29.11 (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”), which many young people understand to refer to God’s guiding their lives through high school and college. (In context it concerns the nation of Israel under domination, and the “yous” in the verse are plural – “you all”). Or consider 2 Chronicles 7.14 (“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land”): many Americans raise this verse as a banner, suggesting that if America repents, America will be blessed. The passage, of course, has nothing to do with America; the “people” who are “called by my [the LORD’s] name” is the people of Israel. These latter two examples may be relatively harmless, valid applications of the verses in some sense, by extending and generalizing principles inherent within, but they nevertheless are appropriated out of context.

Now, here’s the meat of this post. Most thoughtful people will concede that verses should be interpreted in light of the wider context, and the wider context in light of the document in which it is found, and that document in relation to the historical situation in which it is written and the author’s other documents. So far so good. But what happens beyond the level of the discrete document? It’s one thing to interpret, say, 1 Corinthians, for it is one unified text from one author. But how do you interpret the Testaments? That is, how do we interpret apparently disparate documents like Matthew and, say, Galatians?

Here’s where Protestants run into trouble (and the history of biblical scholarship, largely driven by Protestants, particularly German Lutherans, bears this out). Without the framework of a Church and rule of faith, it’s hard to come up with ways of conceiving of the coherence of the entire Bible. There are no truly intrinsic rules provided by the Bible that tell us how to organize it, how to read the whole Bible coherently. Does its consistency lie in the fact that the Triune God is the ultimate author? (This is essentially Wolterstorff’s position in Divine Discourse.) Perhaps. Does it presume a coherent narrative substructure, say, the obedience of Jesus Christ in undergoing his divinely ordained sacrifice? (This is essentially Richard Hays’ position in The Moral Vision of the New Testament). Maybe. Can we assume the coherence of the NT based on the historical agreement and unity of the Apostles, who wrote much of the New Testament and who accepted and interpreted the Old? Here’s where I think we begin to find the answer; the prior two suggestions are necessary but not sufficient.

The context of the Biblical canon in which the Biblical texts are situated presumes the Church which did in fact set limits to the canon (the process being both “bottom up” in terms of valuing what was in fact used in the churches and also “top down” in terms of conciliar and episcopal decisions, such as Athanasius’ 39th Festal Letter of 367 and the Councils of Hippo and Carthage at the end of the fourth century). If we try to go just Bible alone, we won’t have any pattern to help us put the jigsaw puzzle together again. We need the Tradition of the Church as the final contextual matrix to give us the framework of the rule of faith to situate them, and we need a definitive teaching office to tell us when our interpretation might run too far afield of that Tradition. The Church is the ultimate context of Scripture and arbiter of meaning.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fr. Brian Daley, SJ, on Zones of Papal Power in the Ancient Church

CathedraUnitatis links to and summarizes an essay by Fr. Brian Daley, who teaches patristics at Notre Dame. I'm acquainted with Fr. Daley, having met him on one or two occasions, and know his scholarship as well. Anything he writes is well worth reading.

More Soon...

Friends, thanks for all the comments the last few days. I had duties Saturday (such as home improvement, auto improvement, shopping, and a couple movies with the wife) and will have some more duties today, so posting may be light, although I've got a couple posts I'm working on currently re: interpretation. I'm also wanting to post more on Markides, and I've been flipping through the abridgment of Soloviev's The Russian Church and the Papacy, so hopefully we can turn to substantive things again relatively soon.

By the way, it sounds like Pope Benedict read Tony Blair the Riot Act...or maybe pertinent sections from Humanae Vitae.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dont Be That Guy

I've left Bob Jones and Jack Chick behind, but I was once that guy -- the guy that thought Catholics were nuts, blind to the plain, obvious truth brought to light by Luther, Calvin and the other Reformers. I thought if I could just show Catholics how to read Romans or Galatians, they'd see the error of their ways. I read church history as if Catholics were Pharisees. I read Revelation as if the Pope were obviously the Antichrist.

But then Catholic water got its way into the rock of my Protestant heart, and has been working with slow and destructive force ever since, softening it over time to the possibility that maybe the truth lied in Orthodoxy or Catholicism.

What was the water? A conversation I had with a gentle, informed, brilliant young Catholic while I was a zealous young fundie. Having set forth on why I thought Catholicism was wrong, she asked, "OK -- what do you think a Christian needs to believe? What's essential?"

I was caught up short. I had never really actively thought about the essence of Christian faith. So I replied, "Well, the authority of the Bible...the creeds...the Trinity...the divinity of Jesus..."

That's the moment, I think, that started me on this path. How do I decide what's essential and what's not? What should I believe? Why accept the Trinity when it's not in the Bible? And so on.

As the water worked deeper, the rock split further: where was the church from the time of the Apostles until Luther? Why are these 27 books the books of the New Testament? How do I know my interpretation of Scripture is accurate? Why are there bishops in the New Testament? What's going on with Jesus giving Peter the power of the keys anyway? Weird.

As the water worked deeper...I was no longer "that guy," the guy that thinks it's just obvious Catholicism is wrong, the guy that thinks quoting Ephesians 2.8-9 (but not 10!) or 2 Cor 5.17 or 1 Cor 15.57 is sufficient to refute Catholicism. As if no Catholic ever read the Bible before! About "that guy", I now say, "how sad." How sad not to know anything about history, to bear a instinctual hatred towards things and persons Catholic, to assume the Bible is patent and self-interpreting, to have a truncated faith (real as it may be) devoid of beauty and mystery, to have one's head so far in the ostrich hole one refuses to actually find out what the Catholic church really believes. Easier to charge windmills, to bayonet men of straw; easier to believe Reformation polemics, to believe the Catholic church actually believes people are saved by works and not grace. How sad indeed. Don't be that guy. Ask questions. Get a Catechism. Read some history. At the very least, know thy enemy.

(The drawing is Jimmy Akin's sketch of Jack Chick)

Talk to the Hand

I'm not interested in having fundamentalists or evangelicals throw isolated verses from the KJV (or any other English translation, I prefer to work from the Greek) at me. I doubt most of the people on this blog want that either. So I'm in now in full whack-mode.

Now, if you are a fundamentalist/evangelical/Protestant, and you have honest questions and comments that make sense and want to dialogue in a constructive manner, do feel free to comment. Such things are welcome here. Tell us what your Bible verses mean and how they support Protestant understandings of things. Explain to us how Protestants know the NT is indeed the NT. Give us good arguments and good readings. Throwing out isolated verses against a caricature of Catholicism doesn't cut it.

Dumb Things for Which I Repent #382

Laying awake fighting (and losing) the nightly insomnia, I thought of something I sometimes said as a somewhat younger person when I was preaching or speaking to groups of various sorts: "Christianity's not a religion, it's a relationship!" At the time, I didn't see the irony of uttering such in fairly liturgical churches with traditions dating back to 1517 or May 24, 1738 or 1534ish.

One thing I'm realizing as I grow older is that I don't need faith per se; I don't need a relationship with my personal Jesus all by our lonesomes. (What a lonely circle of two we make. About as sensical as an Army of One.) What I need is a religion. "Faith" is vague, inchoate, nebulous. It appears to limit itself to the emotions, to the psyche, and, considered rationally, to the mind. But "religion" -- this suggests an established way of life, presumes a standing community, into both of which I might be grounded. Religion involves the totality of the myriad faculties that comprise a human being -- heart, soul, mind, strength, in one schema, or body, spirit, soul, in another. Religion tells me -- all of me -- what to do.

Most important is that religion involves ritual, and we humans cannot live without ritual. Even Evangelicals go to church once a week (unless, apparently, Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, because the nuclear family is very important, after all).

What I find personally very important about established ritual pertains to my devotional life. Prayer was originally spontaneous for me (and therefore spotty). Then my Bible Camp counselors taught me the A-C-T-S model (Adoration-Confession-Thanksgiving-Supplication). Later, searching for more, I got into Richard Foster and Dallis Willard, among others, and sometime learned about the practice of lectio divina. Many Evangelicals are turning towards such authors composing contemporary classics in classical Christian devotional practices. It's interesting and salutary, of course, that these authors are involved in recovering practices, figures and movements long forgotten by Protestantism and Evangelicalism -- as Protestants. Yet, as much as I have learned from them, it still seems to me like I am picking and choosing what to do and when and how to do it.

I suppose in Catholicism one picks and chooses what to do and when to do it (Orthodoxy with its required fasting seems more structured to me), yet in each tradition it feels like I've got several road maps ready at hand: traditional prayers for meals, traditional times and ways of fasting, Ignatian retreats, and so on. And why should we turn back to patristic and medieval devotional practices without turning back to the patristic and medieval Church(es)?

Sculpture: "Religion overthrowing Heresy and Hatred" (1695-99, Pierre Le Gros, Church of Il Gesu, Rome:
"In Le Gros' work, Religion hurls down thunderbolts upon an old woman representing Hatred while a male figure of Heresy writhes vanquished beneath; to reinforce the point, a putto cheerfully tears pages out of a volume by the Swiss reformer Zwingli, and a tome beneath the figure of Heresy bears Luther's name prominently on its spine.")

Thursday, June 21, 2007

De Donis Mihi Pro Libros

Friends, some of you noticed I added a donation button some days ago for the development of my Catholic/Orthodox library. As other bloggers have such buttons (Mark Shea, Gerald Augustinus of Closed Cafeteria, etc.), I didn't think it would be too out of line. Some stuff we can get from a library, but other stuff we'd like to own.

I'm sheepish about mentioning this at all, but I'm posting this now to say thanks to those who have donated.

A few things: (1) All monies will go to substantive Orthodox and Catholic works. (2) If you want your donation used for one or the other, email me at maximusconfessor [at] gmail [dot] com and let me know. (3) Only give if you've really got it to spare. Money is tight not only for us but for most people. (4) Only give if you're caught up on donating to your church and other worthy ministries. (5) I doubt it'd happen, but if for some reason hundreds of dollars pour in, I'll let you know and take the button down. (6) I'll keep you posted on what we purchase.

Thanks again. We appreciate it.