EWTN has posted my interview on The Journey Home to YouTube. Contrary to the thumbnail used, I didn’t take a quick nap during the show:
Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category
I’ll be on Deep in Scripture on EWTN radio at 2pm EST today. We will be discussing Acts 8:26-40. I believe a video stream will also be available on their website. Be sure to tune in!
My conversion story is currently featured on Why I’m Catholic. If you look closely enough, you’ll also find some long-lost pictures of me from my high school and college days!
The latest issue of OSV Newsweekly includes an article I wrote titled, “How to Handle Awkward Conversations with Family Members.” As the holidays approach, it might be good to prepare ourselves for those inevitable situations in which our way of life conflicts with the way of life of our loved ones:
As my wife and I prepared to leave a family gathering, saying our goodbyes to everyone, one of our young nephews asked, “Well, we’ll see you tomorrow, right?” An awkward pause worthy of the TV show “The Office” followed.
The next day one of our relatives was getting married outside the Church, and we were the only family members not attending. Our extended family had come to an unspoken agreement that there would be no public debates on this topic, deciding that no discussion was better than a heated argument, but, of course, our innocent young relative had no idea of the enactment of this familial policy. We quietly mumbled something to satisfy our nephew and then beat a hasty retreat to our car.
This scene is anything but atypical in Catholic families today. Not uncommon are brothers who proudly announce their vasectomies, cousins who are practicing homosexuals, and adult children who cohabitate before marriage; almost every Catholic has some family member openly defying Church teaching in some area of his life — with no trace of shame or guilt.
This past weekend I had a good friend from Ohio and his family stay at my place for the March for Life. He is Presbyterian, but they are committed pro-lifers and devout Christians. At one point we were talking about deacons in the Catholic Church and the difference between transitional deacons and permanent deacons. This then led to a discussion of the requirement of celibacy for priests and bishops (and transitional deacons) in the Catholic Church. Of course, this passage from 1 Timothy came up:
The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task.
Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons. The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
(1 Timothy 3:1-13 emphasis added)
My Presbyterian friend interprets this passage to mean that a pastor or other person in church leadership must have a wife and children in order to be eligible for his position. Only when a man has proven to be able to “manage his own household” can he be trusted to manage church affairs. Of course, this interpretation clashes with the Roman Catholic practice of only ordaining unmarried men to the priesthood and episcopacy. So is the Church in violation of Scripture? I thought today, the feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus, would be a good time to address this issue.
Before getting to the point at hand, note that Paul does not mention priests in this passage. Why is that? A background of the leadership structure of the 1st century Church is helpful. During Paul’s time, there were three categories of leaders in the Church – apostle, bishop (or “overseer”) and deacon.
The office of apostle was reserved only for those people who had seen the risen Lord directly and had a special mission to tell others about it. This office, by its very nature, could only exist temporarily in the Church, for once all those who had directly witnessed the Risen Christ had died, there was no pool of qualified applicants available. Paul, obviously, was an apostle.
Bishops were appointed by the apostles to lead local churches. Their primary job was to pass on the Faith handed on by the apostles and to be the head of the local church. When a bishop died, another was appointed to take his place (and was ordained by other nearby bishops).
Deacons were appointed by their local bishops to help serve their local church. These men would assist at Mass and would help the poor in the area.
Note that there are no priests in this structure. The simple reason for this is that there was no need for them yet. Local churches were small enough that one bishop could celebrate the Mass which everyone could attend. Basically a bishop was both a bishop and a pastor. Over time, the churches grew and grew and eventually (although no one knows exactly when), men were needed who were not bishops but could celebrate the Mass when a bishop was not available. Eventually these men would become vital parts of the hierarchy, although their requirement for celibacy would differ between East and West. I think everyone would agree, however, that Paul’s advice to Timothy would apply to priests as well as bishops and deacons.
But back to the point at hand. Did bishops (and deacons) have to be married, according to Paul?
First – and most important – Paul himself was not married. If a bishop was required to be married in order to be qualified for church leadership, how could an apostle like Paul – who was higher in the hierarchy than a bishop – be qualified as an unmarried man? Tradition also holds that John the apostle was unmarried (as well as many of the other apostles), so clearly being married was not a requirement for being a leader in the Church.
Secondly, very, very early in tradition (so early we don’t know when it started), bishops were assumed to be celibate. Although you find some married bishops in the 3rd and 4th centuries, most evidence suggests that they practiced complete continence after their episcopal consecration. If Paul demanded that all bishops be married, why did the Church so quickly require her bishops to be unmarried (or at least completely celibate)? We have no evidence that there was any serious debate about this issue at the time, so clearly no Christians believed Paul was making such an argument. Did they just all have a huge blind spot, or perhaps did Paul not mean that all bishops must be married?
Finally, there is the example of Jesus himself. If being married and having kids is so important to church leadership, why didn’t Jesus get married and have children? After all, he is the true head of the Church, and all church leaders are to imitate him in their ministry.
Ultimately what Paul is saying in this passage is that no one should be appointed to church leadership who has not led a publicly upstanding lifestyle up to this point. If a man being considered for the office of bishop is married, then he had better have a solid marriage and good children. If he is not married, then his life up to now must similarly be upstanding and virtuous. Picking someone who has not proven that he can manage his household – whether that household contains one member or ten – is a recipe for disaster. Let us pray that the Church continues to abide by Paul’s advice and only selects such men for the offices of bishop, priest and deacon.
Sts. Timothy and Titus, pray for us!
In today’s Gospel we read about the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. When Mary arrives, “the infant leaped in [Elizabeth's] womb” and Elizabeth proclaims,
Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:42-43)
What does Elizabeth mean by “the mother of my Lord?” We cannot automatically assume that she means “God” when she says “Lord”, for the word “Lord” had multiple meanings in the 1st century. As I wrote in Who is Jesus Christ?:
In the Greek-speaking Roman Empire, one term — “kyrios,” translated “Lord” — was used to address anyone of superior status. The term could have a variety of meanings: from the equivalent of the English word “sir” to the title a slave used to address his master or a woman her husband. It was also a term used to address the emperor, and as Caesar-worship developed throughout the Empire, the term “Lord” began to have divine connotations as well. Fundamentally, “Lord” means one “having power,” and more specifically, it was used of those who had power over others.
Greek-speaking Jews of the Empire used the term “Lord” as well, often in the same fashion as their Gentile neighbors. But there was one exception. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, the word “Lord” was used in place of the divine name, which was unutterable. No Jew would say the name of God, so “Lord” was used as a substitute for that name. Thus, because they assigned the term “Lord” to the Almighty, Jews would never use it to refer to the emperor. (pp. 117-118)
Although Elizabeth was most likely Aramaic-speaking, the same general rules applied to her use of the term “Lord” – so Elizabeth could have used “Lord” to refer to anyone who ranked above her in society (such as her husband) or she could have used it to refer to the one true God of the Jews. So which did she mean in the context of Mary’s Visitation?
There can only be one possibility. In no way would the unborn child of her younger cousin rank above Elizabeth in society – who would call their cousin once removed “sir” or “master” before he is even born? And in the context of Elizabeth calling Mary the most blessed among women and declaring that Mary’s very womb was blessed, the only meaning that Elizabeth could have meant by “Lord” was that in some mysterious fashion (which I’m sure Elizabeth herself could not comprehend), Mary was carrying God Himself. As the Council of Ephesus would solemnly declare over 400 years later, Mary truly is theotokos – the Mother of God.
As we prepare for the coming of God made man this Christmas, let us join in Elizabeth’s praise of the mother of her Lord and ours.
Often people want to boil down complex subjects into simple-to-understand concepts. They are afraid that if something is too complex, some will reject it even if it is true because they can’t easily grasp it. This is also true of Christianity: throughout our history people have tried to simplify the web of truths which make up Christianity into easy-to-understand ideas. This is a noble project, although it does have its dangers. Sometimes in the process of simplification you leave out essential elements and thus distort the reality. But it is still praise-worthy to try to help others to understand Christianity and to try to break down any barrier to it.
If I had to boil down Christianity to just one word, it would be communion. I would define communion as “mutually self-donating union between two or more persons.” It is a union in which each person freely and completely gives himself or herself to the other out of love.
Communion is the leitmotif of all of Salvation History:
- Before creation, there is the Trinity, in which God is a communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- In the story of creation, the first time something is noted as “not good” is when man is alone (Genesis 2:18). It is only after man is joined with woman – in communion – that he is complete.
- The Fall ruptures two communions – the one between man and God (expelled out of Eden) and the one between man and woman (no longer able to be naked without shame).
- In the Incarnation, God entered into communion with man by becoming one of us.
- In his crucifixion and descent into hell, Christ entered into communion even with the depths of man, taking on our sins and dying for them.
- In his resurrection, Christ re-established the ruptured communion between man and God.
- In establishing the Sacrament of the Eucharist – “communion” – Christ gave us the ability to be in communion with both God and with our fellow man.
- In establishing the Sacrament of Matrimony, Christ re-established the ruptured communion between man and woman.
- At the end of time, those who are saved will be completely united to God and become like Him; we will “come to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), thus being in complete and full communion with God and with all the other saved for all eternity.
So you can see that communion is the essence of the Christian Gospel. This has profound implications for how we live as Christians. One of the most obvious is that we cannot believe that our faith is an individualistic one, just between Christ and me. Through Adam, we were lost together, and through Christ – the new Adam – we are saved together. We are bound in this process of salvation as one Body, and to think that the salvation of our neighbor is irrelevant to my salvation is to distort the Gospel.
One of the defining characteristics of Hell is that you are completely and utterly alone. The person is Hell has chosen himself as his god, and God honors that choice by leaving him by himself for all eternity – no God, no communion with anyone. Heaven, on the other hand, is complete communion with God and with all those who are saved. Thus, as the Church Militant we are called to imitate, as much as possible, the Church Triumphant by living in communion with one another and with God.
Let us live out the reality of communion in our churches, in our marriages, and in everything we do on this earth. It is by living out communion that we are truly Christian.
Well, considering the name “Peter” means “rock,” I’m thinkin’ he is.
But Michael Barber, professor of theology at John Paul the Great Catholic University has decided to spend some time – and blog-posts – studying the issue in a little more depth. Here is Part I.
Check it out!
Most Catholics today have at one time or another met a self-professed ‘Bible Christian.’ This is someone who claims to only believe what is in the Bible, and nothing else. As such they reject supposedly “added” Catholic beliefs like the papacy, purgatory and the sacraments, because they claim they are not in the Scriptures. In some cases, such as purgatory or even the role of Mary, it does take a deep understanding of the Bible to see their foundations found within its pages. But there are some beliefs rejected by ‘Bible Christians’ that jump out of the pages of the Bible with just a cursory reading. These are what I call the “biggest biblical blind spots of ‘Bible Christians.’”
1) The role of Peter
When I was an evangelical Christian, I often studied the Scriptures, but somehow I never saw Peter as an important figure in the New Testament. Now that I am Catholic, I do not know how I could have been so blind. Peter is almost everywhere in the Gospels and in Acts, and he re-appears in Paul’s letters at times as well. We have three separate instances – from three different Gospels – where Jesus gives Peter a specific, and unique, role in the Church (Matthew 16:17-19, Luke 22:31-32 and John 21:15-17). Yet the vast majority of Protestants – and all ‘Bible Christians’ – fail to recognize any significant role for Peter in the early Church or in today’s Church.
2) The Eucharist
‘Bible Christians’ love to claim that they take the Bible literally, and they note their interpretation of Genesis 1-3 to support their claim. But what about John 6? In that chapter Jesus clearly states that he is the bread of life and one must eat his flesh to have eternal life. Yet no ‘Bible Christian’ takes that literally, and they relegate the Eucharist to a minor, purely symbolic, ceremony. The early Christians, on the other hand, understood the meaning of Christ’s words and made the celebration of the Eucharist the central act of their worship.
3) The role of works in salvation
“We are saved by faith alone!” cries the ‘Bible Christian.’ Yet the Bible is full of warnings on the necessity of works for the salvation of the believer. The parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) directly links our works with our eternal destination, and the only place in the New Testament where ‘faith alone’ is found (James 2:24) condemns it as unable to bring justification. But somehow the ‘Bible Christian’ still cries out “faith alone!” simply because it is a Protestant tradition.
4) The place of suffering in the Christian life
Often people don’t realize how much a culture impacts their worldview. This is true even for Christians. Our modern Western culture puts pleasure at the center of happiness, and rejects any value to suffering. This cultural presupposition has infected Christians, including ‘Bible Christians’. Yet if you read the letters of Paul, you cannot help but notice the role of suffering in his theology. The Lord himself made it clear how integral suffering would be to Paul’s life when he told Ananias: “Go, for this man [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16). And of course, the heavy emphasis put on Christ’s suffering and death in the Gospels should tell even the most cursory reader of Scripture how important suffering is in the Christian Faith.
5) The necessity of Baptism
The vast majority of ‘Bible Christians’ believe that one simply has to “accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior” in order to become a Christian. While some might also eventually baptize such a person, it is not seen as a necessary step in the life of a Christian. Yet nothing could be further from the biblical witness. When the crowd asks after the first Christian sermon how they might be saved, Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Baptism was the normative means to enter the Church and no Christian denied this fact until recent years.
It is unfortunate that ‘Bible Christians’ reject such clear directives from the Bible. Such people are usually sincere, well-intentioned followers of Christ. Let us hope and pray that one day they will decide to enter the Church that gave us the Bible – the Catholic Church.
A question you will sometimes hear when debating Protestants on the role of the Pope in the Church is “Why Rome?” In other words, even if Peter himself did have primacy (which just about every Protestant will deny), why does the bishop of Rome have that primacy now? After all, Jerusalem was clearly the center of the Christian church at the beginning (and Peter was the leader of that community before going off on missionary trips) and Peter was also the bishop of Antioch before he went to Rome, so why does not one of those two have primacy in the Church? Why did the leader of the Roman church receive his primacy?
Some Catholics might argue that this is simply what the Christians decided when Peter died, or even before he died. But I don’t think it was that simple, nor do I think that is how God usually works in this world. As I have written before, the Church’s understanding of God and His works develops over time, and I think the primacy of Rome was no exception. Over time, many factors came into consideration in the Church’s deepening understanding of Rome’s place in the universal Church. Here are a few of the factors:
The martyrdom of Peter and Paul in Rome
The first, and most important, reason Rome gained primacy in the early Church was that it was the location of the martyrdom of the apostles Peter and Paul. Martyrdom was central to the faith of the early church, and the places where martyrdoms occurred were considered sacred places. Thus, the location where the two greatest apostles died was considered of supreme importance in the Church. Irenaeus in the 2nd century said that the church in Rome was “founded” by Peter and Paul even though everyone knew that there was a church there before either of those two arrived. But their deaths there established them as the “founders” (by their blood) of that local church, and the leaders in that church gained their authority.
Thus, this sacred connection to Peter and Paul “transferred” their privileges to the church in Rome. Peter clearly has been given a unique – and authoritative – role in the Church by Jesus (according to Matthew 16:17-19, Luke 22:31-32 and John 21:15-17), and his death in Rome cements Rome’s position as the church which receives that primacy. Furthermore, Paul’s death there also grants Rome Paul’s mission to preach the Gospel to the whole world. (Note: the pope was most commonly seen as the successor of BOTH Peter and Paul in the early church, not just Peter. The death of both of these apostles bestowed both of their missions on that church). All the other factors listed below find their foundation in this most important factor; in other words, if Peter and Paul had not died in Rome, it is highly unlikely that Rome would be the primacy see of the Church.
Rome’s reputation for orthodoxy
During the first centuries of Christianity, Rome had a great reputation for orthodoxy. While bishops of other great Christian cities such as Alexandria or Antioch or Constantinople fell into heresy, it was known in the early Church that never was heresy embraced in Rome. This reputation grew over the centuries, and many saw it as a special protection granted to the church of Peter and Paul. Rome could be counted on, when other churches embraced heresy, to always teach the True Faith.
Rome’s charity to other churches
Another reason for Rome’s primacy was due to its role in charity in the early Church. As a “rich” local church, it was known to help other local churches throughout the empire when in need. Ignatius of Antioch in the early 2nd century said that the church in Rome “presides in love,” which many scholars believe references their great charity towards the rest of the Church. This charity, of course, would also give them a certain prestige within the universal Church and link those churches to Rome in an intimate fashion.
The destruction of Jerusalem
In 70A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman armies, and then in 135A.D. it was wiped out again by the Romans. These two events not only removed the Jewish population there, it removed any real Christian presence there as well. For all intents and purposes, there was no church in Jerusalem after 135 A.D., so its bishop could not have any real authority over the universal Church.
Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire
Another reason for Rome’s preeminence is the fact of it being the capital of the Roman Empire. This was more important in the East, but it was a factor in the Roman church’s rise, nonetheless. Many Christians saw the Roman Empire as the boundaries of the Christian world, and the capital of that Empire was seen as the “capital” of the Christian world as well. This was not the common view in the West, who saw Rome’s prerogatives in a more spiritual light, but it was an influential view in the East.
Some might see the above as proof that there is no “real” reason for Rome to be the primary church in Christendom. After all, Peter and Paul just happened to die in Rome, which just happened to be a conservative church and therefore not in danger of falling into heresy, and which just happened to be a rich church and could therefore help others, and which just happened to not be destroyed by the Roman armies, and which just happened to be the capital of the Empire. But to a Catholic, that would be like saying that the Roman emperor just happened to hold a census when Mary was pregnant with Jesus, thus leading to the fulfillment of Scripture that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. God works through the reality of our human world, and so nothing in salvation history “just happens.” All of the factors listed above allowed Christians to better understand the role that God wanted for the church in Rome in the universal Church.
Note: today, most Catholics and Orthodox would agree in general with what I have written above, although of course they would disagree with exactly how Rome’s primacy should be practiced in today’s Church.
This is an edited version of a post I originally wrote on a Protestant apologetics forum.
This past weekend a fellow convert asked me why I became Catholic. I quickly answered, “Because it is true.” Of course that didn’t really answer his question, as he wanted to know the specific things that drew me to Catholicism. So I gave him an abbreviated form of my conversion story.
But the answer “because it is true” is the fundamental reason why I became Catholic. And there is no better patron saint for this reason for conversion than today’s saint, St. Justin Martyr. Justin was a pagan philosopher who jumped from one philosophy to another in pursuit of the truth. This fundamental longing for truth is something that has been missing from much of modern philosophical studies, and in modern society in general. At the beginning of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, the senior demon Screwtape writes,
MY DEAR WORMWOOD,
I note what you say about guiding our patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naïf? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” of “false”, but as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.
The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real”.
It seems like the work of Hell has been largely successful today: the pursuit of objective truth has become unfashionable in most circles, as whatever someone believes is “true for them” and not really relevant to daily life anyway.
Yet St. Justin lived in a different era, and he was a passionate about pursuing the truth, wherever it might lead him. When he eventually encountered the “philosophy” of Christianity, he recognized that the truth was not a concept or philosophy, but a person: Jesus Christ. And although he was a philosopher, he was not drawn to Christianity merely by intellectual arguments, but also by the witness of the martyrs, whose love of the Truth led to their heroic deaths. St. Justin himself ended up following their witness, which is why he is remembered as St. Justin Martyr.
St. Justin Martyr, pray for us!
In some Evangelical circles, knowledge of the Biblical Greek language is seen as a trump card in any arguments regarding the interpretation of Scripture passages. When a debate occurs, someone just has to say, “well, in the original Greek, this means…” and the argument is won. But the reality is much different: although knowledge of Biblical Greek is helpful in many ways, it does not automatically give one knowledge of the “real” meaning of a passage. Greek is still a human language, and as such, it has its ambiguities just like any language. Furthermore, those who know Greek have their own biases and preconceptions which they bring to the text. Sometimes knowing the Greek can eliminate certain possible interpretations, but never does it alone give you sure knowledge of the meaning of a debated passage.
One of the most well-known Greek teachers in the Evangelical world is Bill Mounce. I myself have used his materials to learn Biblical Greek. Fortunately, even though he is an expert in the Biblical Greek language, Mounce does not fall into the fallacy of thinking that knowledge of Greek gives you some secret knowledge of the inner meaning of the Bible. He understands that proper interpretation includes many factors outside of just knowing the original language.
Case in point: a recent blog post by Mounce caught my eye, as he decided to tackle 2 Peter 1:20-21, which is a heavily debated passage between Catholics and Protestants. This passage states:
RSV: First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
NAB: Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God.
NIV: Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Greek: τουτο πρωτον γινωσκοντες οτι πασα προφητεια γραφης ιδιας επιλυσεως ου γινεται ου γαρ θεληματι ανθρωπου ηνεχθη προφητεια ποτε αλλα υπο πνευματος αγιου φερομενοι ελαλησαν απο θεου ανθρωποι
The importance of this passage in Catholic/Protestant debates should be clear: does this passage mean that an individual cannot interpret Scripture? If so, that would go a long way towards undercutting one of the bedrocks of Protestantism. After making some introductory comments regarding context, Mounce posits two different possible meanings for verse 20:
Contextually, Peter is saying that the prophecies of Scripture were not made up by the prophets from what they saw and heard in their prophecies and dreams; but what they understood them to mean was the result of the Holy Spirit carrying them along. They too had experienced the direct work of God, just as Peter had on the Mount of Transfiguration. But can we be more specific?
1. One view is to say the passage is talking about origins. These prophecies and interpretations came from God, as opposed to what the false teachers were teaching.
2. A second view is to say the prophecies are not open to any one person’s individual interpretation, but the interpretation must be in conformity to apostolic interpretation. For us today, this would mean Scripture in general.
At this point, I am not sure there is much difference between these two options. Prophecies and their interpretation come from God, not from individuals who vary from the apostolic teaching.
I would be in basic agreement with Mounce at this point, and in fact I would say the two possibilities can be combined into one: the origin of prophecies in Scripture (and all of Scripture for that matter) is the Holy Spirit, and therefore an individual is not allowed to make up their own interpretation of what they mean. Furthermore, any interpretation cannot vary from the deposit of faith – what Mounce calls “apostolic teaching.” But then Mounce goes off the tracks:
But the Catholic REB translates “No prophetic writing is a matter for private interpretation.” This would cement the seat of authority of interpretation in the church and not any individual teacher, preacher, or prophet, and exclude, among others, people like Luther. At one level, this is not saying anything different. The false teachers were wrong to come up with their personal (and different) interpretation of things. But I wonder how Peter would feel being told that his interpretation of the Messianic Kingdom was wrong because is was an individual interpretation and different from the prevailing (i.e., Rabbinic) views of the day. I suspect he wouldn’t agree.
Let’s get this straight: Mounce agrees that it is not proper to get interpretations “from individuals who vary from the apostolic teaching,” yet he thinks the Catholic understanding of the passage could be used against Peter, the chief apostle?! Peter, by definition, cannot have an “individual interpretation” which varied from the apostolic teaching, as he is himself an apostle. Surely Mounce cannot believe that Catholics would use this passage against Peter, the first pope!
And this brings up a more important question: how do we know what is “apostolic teaching”? Most Protestants today would say it is by properly interpreting Scripture. Yet you can see the circular argument: Biblical interpretation cannot vary from apostolic teaching, yet apostolic teaching is determined by (individual) Biblical interpretation. There must be some determination of what is apostolic teaching outside of Scripture. And fittingly, it is the role of the apostles (and their successors), not just any individual, to declare what is apostolic teaching. The reason is that the apostles have the same origin as the Scriptures, for it was the Holy Spirit which gives them their authority.
Although Mounce errs in his understanding of the Catholic interpretation of this passage, I would agree fully with the final paragraph of his post:
As is so often in Greek, the original language gives us the range of interpretive options, but usually it is context that makes the final decision. Greek is not a magic key that reveals the one and only possible interpretation; otherwise we wouldn’t have an endless supplies of Greek commentaries.
Fortunately, Christ did not expect us to be Greek scholars to understand the Bible; instead he gave us apostles and their successors to guard and teach the deposit of faith, which gives us the overall context in which to properly interpret Scripture.
When I was an Evangelical Christian, we would often engage in “spontaneous” prayer in which each person would simply pray as “the Spirit led them.” We were against rote prayers, feeling that they were “traditions of men” and broke the Lord’s command against vain and repetitious prayer (Matthew 6:7). But over time I started to realize something: our “spontaneous” prayers were awful unoriginal, each sounding like a slightly modified version of the previous prayer.
The same thing occurred with our Sunday worship services: they were intended to be spontaneous and fresh, yet over time they took on a set structure that was much like every other Evangelical service out there.
It appears that other Evangelicals have noticed that today’s Sunday services are still just as predictable as always, as can be seen in this hilarious video:
The problem with condemning repetition in prayer is that it is almost impossible to be truly spontaneous all the time, and it is human nature to feel comfortable with repetition in our lives. Jesus did not condemn repeating prayers, he condemned mindlessly repeating prayers. If you say the Hail Mary without contemplating what you are saying, then you are “babbling like the pagans” (Matthew 6:7). But if you pray the Hail Mary while contemplating the mysteries of our salvation, then your prayer is efficacious. After all, when the apostles asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he did not say, “just wing it”, but instead gave them a set prayer to say: the Our Father.
I recently got the following question by email:
The scriptures tell us that among those born of women there have been none greater than John the baptist. So how do we reconcile this with Mary being more blessed than all?
The question is referring to Matthew 11:11, in which Jesus declares:
Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
In this passage, our Lord is extolling the importance of John the Baptist in the plan of salvation. As the last of the prophets, he had the unique role as the forerunner to Christ. Furthermore, his greatness is seen in his humility: instead of his important role leading to pride, John the Baptist chose the humble path, making his whole life one that points to another. As Scripture constantly repeats, it is the humble who are exalted and the exalted who are humbled.
But does this statement mean that John the Baptist is “greater” than Mary? After all, both were “born of women”. To understand this saying of Jesus, one must understand that Jesus spoke in the way of the people around him; in other words, as a 1st century Jew (after all, he WAS a 1st century Jew). One of the common ways rabbis in that time spoke was to make an absolute statement to make a point, but which was understood as one that was not to be taken literally. For example, Jesus commanded that we call no one “father”, yet no one stopped calling their father by that name. He commanded that we cut off our hand if it causes us to sin, and none of his followers actually believed that they should dismember themselves. These “absolute” statements have a way of making a strong point that impresses upon the mind the point being made, but they are not to be taken literally.
But how do we know that this particular instance is an example of this type of “absolute” statement? Because we know for a fact that there is one “born of women” that is greater than John the Baptist: Jesus himself. After all, Jesus was truly born of Mary, and he is far greater than John the Baptist. Matthew himself in his Gospel takes pains to show us that Jesus is both born of a woman and that he is greater than John the Baptist, yet he has no problem in reporting this saying of Jesus in his Gospel. So we know that Jesus highly honors John the Baptist, but also that his statement should not be taken completely literally.
Today is the Feast of All Souls, in which we remember those who have died and are currently in purgatory. In honor of this feast day, I have posted a new article on my website in which I defend, using both Scripture and reason, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory:
Purgatory is one of those subjects, like economics, about which nearly everyone has an opinion but few have in-depth knowledge. Protestants point to it as an example of a pernicious “tradition of men” which Christ wisely condemned. Orthodox Christians, who accept the possibility of an interim state between this life and heaven, are uncomfortable with many traditional depictions of purgatory as well as associated doctrines such as indulgences. And many Catholics today treat purgatory like a persistent rash they cannot get rid of: it comes to their attention now and then, but is better left hidden from public view.
However, the doctrine of purgatory has a long and valued history within the Catholic Church and it would be unfaithful to our predecessors in the faith to ignore or minimize it. So our first necessity is a clear definition of what the Church teaches regarding purgatory. Given all the images and ideas among the faithful about this belief, it may be surprising that the Church’s teaching is actually very limited.
Read the whole thing here.