Wednesday, June 18, 2008

George W. Bush: America's First Catholic President?

(Brendan)

How's that for a provocative title? But, it may in fact be true! Oh sure, JFK was Catholic, but he famously played down the role of his faith in his presidency, and considering the sort of "Catholic in name only" approach of most of the Kennedy family, their pro-choice stance and social liberalism, it's hard to really call JFK a particularly Catholic president. George W. Bush, on the other hand, has had a deep affinity with the Catholic faith, which has been clear in the number of Catholic advisors with which he has surrounded himself, the number of Catholic judges he has nominated to the bench, his extremely friendly relationship with both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, and his clear and overt references in his policies to many Catholic principles and teachings. So if Bill Clinton can be called the nation's first "black president," perhaps George W. Bush is truly the nation's first "Catholic president."

Except that soon, we may be able to remove the quotes around "Catholic president."

If I wasn't suspicious before (due to the many meetings President Bush has had with Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict, and his recent pomp and circumstance welcoming of Pope Benedict to the White House), I really became suspicious when I heard President Bush was to meet with Pope Benedict AGAIN last week on his farewell tour of Europe. "Again?! He just had Pope Benedict at the White House a month ago." Something's up here. I immediately thought that President Bush wanted to discuss something specific with the Pope. Perhaps converting to the Catholic faith?

The backstory is that President Bush's good friend, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, just converted to the Catholic faith a few months ago after scheduling a special meeting with Pope Benedict to discuss the matter. He is formerly an Anglican.

Also, President Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, has already converted to the Catholic faith some years ago, and Jeb's wife is also Catholic. Throw in the fact that President Bush has been rumored to be discussing the matter with some close Catholic advisors, such as Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things, and I think there are some significant legs to this story. Prime Minister Blair waited (understandably) until he was out of office to convert to the Church, and President Bush would likely do the same. So it will likely be some time until we know for sure. But, here's the low down from elsewhere in the media:

A Catholic Wind in the White House -- The Washington Post

Bush 'May Convert to Catholicism' -- The Independent

George W Bush Meets Pope Amid Claims He Might Convert to Catholicism -- The Telegraph

Will President Bush Convert to Catholicism? -- About.com Catholicism Blog

Bush Becoming a Catholic? -- Newsmax.com

English Paper Announces President Bush May Be Considering Catholicism -- Catholic News Agency

I don't think it's a slam dunk yet, but I'm reaching the point where I think I'll be surprised if he doesn't convert.

19 comments:

Molly Koop said...

We will pray that President Bush has the courage to make this step to full communion in the fullness of the Faith.

Anonymous said...

The content of your post, Brendan, and Molly's response is MUCH more provocative than the title. It sounds very much like you are both implying that being a Roman Catholic is the ultimate form of Christianity. President Bush has made many public comments that lead me to believe that he is a Christian, of course only God knows a man's convictions. You say he needs to become a Catholic (big "C") to enter "the fullness of Faith." What does that mean exactly?

I look forward to your reply.

Brendan Koop said...

Thanks for your comment. I don't know how the post itself would be provocative, it's simply a summary of a current event, one that the secular media has also covered. But, if you are a non-Catholic Christian, Molly's comment could be read as being offensive, and I can understand that, though it is not meant to be offensive. Rather, more than anything, it's meant to testify to the truth. Speaking of the Catholic faith as being the "fullness" of the Christian faith is a common phrase used in the Catholic Church, and it's one we believe strongly.

If you are a non-Catholic Christian, certainly you know that there are differences in belief between Catholics, so-called "mainline" Protestants, evangelicals, and any Christian denominations. Those differences in belief aren't trivial and must be acknowledged in an authentic search for the truth. For instance, when the Catholic Church claims, as it has always done for 2,000 years, to be the visible church on earth founded by Jesus Christ, that claim is either true or it's false. If that claim is true, it should matter to every Christian.

When Christ spoke in the Gospel of John, chapter 6, and then followed through with his actions at the Last Supper, the Catholic Church claims that the Eucharist was instituted by Christ and is truly his body, blood, soul, and divinity, and that claim is either true or it's false. If that claim is true, it should matter in a radical way to every Christian.

These are just a few examples. These issues, anyone can agree, are very important issues. One can't claim that there are just different flavors of Christianity, that would be a form of relativism and false unity. Christ desired that all his followers may be one in his Church.

If you are a non-Catholic Christian, one of the biggest questions to reflect on is "by what authority?" If you believe something about the Christian faith to be true, and a fellow non-Catholic Christian believes it to be false, who is to say who is right and who is wrong? There are thousands of non-Catholic Christian denominations in the world, all intepret the Bible on their own, and all have some differences in belief, and those difference can matter a great deal, all the way to impacting salvation. Who is right? Is this what Christ wanted when he desired that all would be one?

The Catholic Church would say (and we believe strongly) that the Pope is the successor of St. Peter, and that line can be historically traced through 264 Popes straight back to St. Peter. When Christ stated in Matthew 16:16-19 that Peter was "Rock" and upon this Rock he will build his Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it, and that whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven, and one sees that the Catholic Church has survived 2,000 years to this day, one must consider carefully the claim that the Catholic Church is the visible church that Christ founded. And when Christ gave teaching authority to the apostles, as the first leaders of his Church, and gave them the Holy Spirit as their guide and protector, one must consider carefully whether that teaching authority has continued, unbroken, in apostolic succession, and still subsists in the Catholic Church, and whether the Church's magisterium (the Pope, and the bishops in union with him, the successors of the apostles) has authority in teaching on faith and morals and is protected from error by the Holy Spirit and thus has earthly authority to say which teachings are true and which are false.

Without authority, we are left each to his own to interpret scripture however each pleases. It's similar to if each would interpret the laws of the U.S. government each in his own way. Such a system certainly would be chaos, which is why we have the courts and ultimately the Supreme Court to authoritatively interpret the law. Christ would not have left us each to his own, no more than the founding fathers of the U.S. would have. I would highly recommend reading the writings of the early church fathers, those closest to the apostles, and asking whether they believed what the Catholic Church still teaches today.

I want to be careful to make clear that the Catholic Church does not teach that all non-Catholics cannot be saved. The Catholic Church also makes clear that there are degrees of truth in other religions, with the highest degrees being in the non-Catholic Christian faiths that may have a good deal of the full truth. But, given Catholic's belief in the teaching authority of the Church, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, among other things, Catholics would certainly say that the Catholic faith is the "fullness of the faith", i.e. the whole truth. Certainly, every Christian wants to know and understand and believe in the whole truth, and that's why Catholics rejoice when other Christians come into the Catholic Church in full communion, such as President Bush is apparently considering.

In regard to some of what I've said here, here's a quote from one of the articles I linked to regarding President Bush:

"Moreover, people close to Bush say that he has professed a not-so-secret admiration for the church's discipline and is personally attracted to the breadth and unity of its teachings. A New York priest who has befriended the president said that Bush respects the way Catholicism starts at the foundation -- with the notion that the papacy is willed by God and that the pope is Peter's successor. 'I think what fascinates him about Catholicism is its historical plausibility,' says this priest. 'He does appreciate the systematic theology of the church, its intellectual cogency and stability.' The priest also says that Bush 'is not unaware of how evangelicalism -- by comparison with Catholicism -- may seem more limited both theologically and historically.'"

Again, this is not meant to be offensive, it just shows that President Bush himself is considering the issues that I brought up and may one day come into full communion with the Catholic Church because of these questions.

Sarah said...

As one of those evangelical non-Catholic believers, I would like to say that I greatly respect your desire to uphold truth as TRUTH. I desire the same - as you pointed out with a few examples, we obviously have some fundamentally different beliefs as well as some fundamentally different foundational building blocks.

I can tell you that as for where I get the basis for the truth I uphold, I look to the Word of God as my foundation and also rely on the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to all who believe. John 14:26 states "He [Holy Spirit] will teach you all things." Our God is a very personal God Who delights in individual revelation.

In my opinion, it is our humanness that wants a very tangible and visible representation of God on earth, and though God definitely understands our humanness, He also desires our faith. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." (As Jesus said to Thomas after rising from the dead and then allowing him to touch the nail scars in hands and feet.)
I would have to say that I first and foremost identify myself as a follower of Christ (a Christian). Would you first and foremost identify yourself as a Catholic? It seems to me that if this is true, then those fundamental building blocks that we use to defend what we hold as TRUE are very different and therefore it is impossible to build a decent argument against the other because we go back to a different source to explain our position (you to the CHURCH [as you say], and me to the Word or to the Holy Spirit). From what I'm hearing you say, you also consider the Word and the Holy Spirit's guidance, but only through the filter of the Catholic church. This would be where our different ultimate authority lies.

Because I know that in our human attempts to set up "religious" institutions, we often fail and are not infallible, but live by the grace of God and do our best to please and follow Him, I desire to check all things through the litmus test of the Word and the Holy Spirit. The Church (in all its forms) over the centuries has come up with some corrupt practices and thinking and also changed those very practices and come back to Truth so many times and fallen back into corruption so many times.

As I said, I do respect your views and I really admire the Catholic church, especially in the sense of all that this institution has accomplished over the world and all that it stands for.

Christianity is already an offensive and "exclusive religion" the way the world sees it. There is one way to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ. However, it seems you would also add to this, "There is one way to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ, and the path best taken is through the Catholic church and its beliefs."

Like it or not, this is going to come across as pretty offensive to all non-Catholics.

"and after he brought them out, he said, `Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' They [Paul and Silas] said, `Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'" Acts 16:30-31

Everything else is just a matter of obedience.

Although it does seem that we will have to just wait for heaven to experience the true unity of believers.

Now, I realize that much of this has hardly anything to do with your original post. The various comments and replies thus far just proved too compelling! :)

I enjoy reading your well-thought-out thoughts.

Brendan Koop said...

Sarah:

I really liked your comment; thoughtful and well-written as always! There's no doubt that truth matters to you, and that's so very important for any Christian (and it should be important to any person, Christian or not). And you are always very charitable when you write, which immediately gains you my respect as that is a difficult thing to do for us sinful human beings.

Just a few responses:

"I can tell you that as for where I get the basis for the truth I uphold, I look to the Word of God as my foundation and also rely on the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to all who believe."

--From the standpoint of a Catholic, this is part of what's problematic. This is what any Christian would say, even when coming to opposite conclusions on issues (both of which relied on the guidance of the Holy Spirit). Human beings are fallible, and their interpretation of the Bible can be fallible (or their interpretation of how the Holy Spirit is leading them). This is why Catholics rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, specifically as it was formally given by Christ to the Church. In Jn 14:26, which you quoted, Christ is speaking to his apostles, who, with Peter, are the foundation of Christ's visible Church. A Catholic would not say that the Pope is infallible of his own accord, or that anyone in the Church is infallible, but acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is infallible and guides the Catholic Church in its teaching authority, protecting it from error. So when the Church's magisterial teaching authority (the Pope, in union with the bishops, the successors of the apostles which can be traced back historically) teaches authoritatively on a matter of the faith, that teaching is infallible (protected from error by the Holy Spirit). So we are both going to the same authority, the Holy Spirit, but the manifestation of that authority is quite different.

In terms of a human wanting to see something visible, I wouldn't argue with you there, humans certainly prefer the visible to the invisible. However, for a Catholic this doesn't have any bearing on whether or not to trust in the authority of the Church's teaching simply because in the end it's based on something that's invisible: the Holy Spirit. In some ways, it's even more difficult to believe in the Church's authority, because you have to get past the fact that you are trusting in sinners to protect the deposit of faith. Yet, through 2,000 years the Catholic Church has survived, and has never authoritatively taught heresy (even many non-Catholic Christian historians agree on that). That's pretty remarkable. Certainly there have been people within the Church who have been corrupt and misrepresented Church teaching throughout the ages at different times, this is certainly not in dispute and is a result of human sin. But OFFICIAL and authoritative Church teaching has, once formally defined, never changed throughout history and, as Catholics believe, been protected from error. "...the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth." - 1 Tim 3:15

"I would have to say that I first and foremost identify myself as a follower of Christ (a Christian). Would you first and foremost identify yourself as a Catholic? It seems to me that if this is true, then those fundamental building blocks that we use to defend what we hold as TRUE are very different and therefore it is impossible to build a decent argument against the other because we go back to a different source to explain our position (you to the CHURCH [as you say], and me to the Word or to the Holy Spirit)."

--We definitely would say first and foremost that we are Catholics, because to say that means that we are followers of Christ and are members of his Church (the two being intertwined). In the end we are both saying the same thing, that we are first and foremost followers of Christ, though in a different way.

As you mentioned that you would go to the Word of God as your authority first, but this again is very problematic from the standpoint of a Catholic. Let me give you a short example. If you lived in the year 200 AD, I assume you would say the same thing, right? But it wouldn't mean the same thing then, because the entire canon of the Bible wasn't authoritatively determined until the end of the fourth century. So you wouldn't have had scripture or the New Testament as we know it today to go back to, you may not have even had a written account of the Gospels available to you. How would you determine authoritative truth? I can tell you what Christians in that time did, they went to the bishops to determine what was authoritative teaching, which had to be handed down orally for some time (that's what's called big T "Tradition") this can be seen by reading the writings of the early Christians and Church fathers. In reality, and I don't mean to be offensive at all in saying this, but you are also relying on the authority of the Catholic Church, because it was the Catholic Church that authoritatively determined what was inspired scripture and what was not. And again, we would not say that men determined the canon of scripture of their own authority, but that the Holy Spirit protected the Church from error in determining the canon of scripture (and there were certainly other books that could have been included in the New Testament which the Church determined were not inspired - for instance, the gnostic gospels). The list of books which books make up the Bible as inspired scripture is not part of the Word of God. So in some way, we're all going to the Word of God through the filter of the Church, Catholics are simply formally acknowledging this authority.

"Christianity is already an offensive and "exclusive religion" the way the world sees it. There is one way to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ. However, it seems you would also add to this, 'There is one way to heaven and that is through Jesus Christ, and the path best taken is through the Catholic church and its beliefs.' Like it or not, this is going to come across as pretty offensive to all non-Catholics."

--This is I think a key difference, that being that we certainly do not look at the Catholic Church as simply being a series of teachings as a way of disciplining your life, or one way to try to live a holy life. It's much more than that. We wouldn't look at the Catholic Church as "a way" to heaven among other lesser ways. We would say, as you do, that there is only one way to heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ. But for Catholics the way through Jesus Christ is through the Church he established, for we believe that Christ established the Church so that his graces could flow through it and out to the entire world, and so it is in the Church that one is best equipped to follow Christ due to the graces he has given the Church through the sacraments.

"'and after he brought them out, he said, `Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' They [Paul and Silas] said, `Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'' Acts 16:30-31

Everything else is just a matter of obedience."

--I know there's a temptation, with all of the division in Christianity which we have brought on ourselves through our sinfulness, to resolve that divisiveness by holding onto "belief in Christ" as the final and only thing that matters. Everything else is just details. But without authority, what does "belief" mean? Does it mean "intellectual assent", i.e. intellectually acknowledging that Christ is Lord? That can't be right, because "even the demons believe - and shudder." - James 2:19. So then, what is belief? Does it mean a sincere conversion of heart? That certainly seems necessary, but if this happens once, and then the person regresses into disbelief and grave sin, what happens? Once saved, always saved? Or does it require one to "run the race" and "finish the course" as St. Paul says, and to validate one's faith with one's works, as it says in James. Or, still further, is baptism required for salvation? Some would say that the interior conversion is all that matters, that baptism is not really required and that if it is done it's just a public sign of one's conversion. Or is it true that baptism is necessary for salvation, in addition to conversion, as St. Peter says (Acts 2:38) when he commands that all must repent AND be baptized.

These are all fundamental, extremely important questions if one is interested in their salvation, and where are we to go for the final answer? Are we left to argue amongst ourselves, or each come to our own conclusions about what is true? Catholics believe the answer is certainly "no" and that we can trust in the authoritative teaching of the Church on these matters, in the end trusting on the guidance of the Holy Spirit given to it, and then have peace that the truth is known and can be acted upon.

One final thought, somewhat of a side note, but something that non-Catholic Christians must think about is how to resolve all the new ethical and moral issues that have come up and will continue to come up even more in the future. Contraception? The Catholic Church and ALL non-Catholic Christian denominations universally taught that contraception was a sin... that is, until 1930. Then a few started saying, well in certain cases it isn't a sin. Then a few more started to change to "adapt to the times" or the "changing social mores of society". Eventually, we have what we have today, the Catholic Church stands alone, having never changed, in saying that contraception is a sin. It's either sinful, or it's not, so someone's right here and someone's wrong. Catholics trust in the authority of the Church in these matters, and despite overwhelming criticism, the Church has not changed and has been correct on this. Contraception begot a separation of children from sex, which begot objectification of sex, which begot abortion, divorce, and countless other evils.

Or how about something as fundamental as abortion, or gay "marriage", or embryonic stem cell research, or cloning, or assisted suicide, or euthanasia, or in vitro fertilization, and on and on and on. Some Christians say that some of these things are morally permitted, some say they are gravely sinful. Some say that some of these things are sinful and some of these things are not. But we can't all be right, and who is left to say what is and is not morally licit? What is and is not in keeping with Christ's teaching and with scripture? The Bible cannot be a handbook for many of these things, new issues are coming up all the time. Catholics rest on the authority of the Church on these matters, through the protection of the Holy Spirit, and see much evidence for the Lord's guidance of the Church to the truth.

Just to finish, I hope you understand how much respect and admiration we have for you and your family as well. We love you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response, Brendan. I am in fact a non-Catholic Christian. I am not offended by what you say because I am too confident in my beliefs. It sounds as though you are quite confident in your beliefs as well which makes any argument I make seem a waste.

I will just make a few comments about things that stood out to me while reading your responses.

1. You talk a lot about the "Church" and it's teachings. I try my best to lean on Christ's teachings and the Bible.

2. You say that "Human beings are fallible, and their interpretation of the Bible can be fallible (or their interpretation of how the Holy Spirit is leading them)" but then, from my perspective, contradict yourself by saying, "we can trust in the authoritative teaching of the Church on these matters," "[t]he Bible cannot be a handbook for many of these things, new issues are coming up all the time. Catholics rest on the authority of the Church on these matters," and "the Church's magisterium (the Pope, and the bishops in union with him, the successors of the apostles) has authority in teaching on faith and morals and is protected from error by the Holy Spirit and thus has earthly authority to say which teachings are true and which are false." Isn't the Church made up of human beings? Aren't the Pope and bishops human beings?

3. You said that Church was created 2,000 years ago. I am presuming that when you use a capital "C" you are referring to the Roman Catholic Church, correct me if I'm wrong. I don't recall Jesus referring to the church with a capital "C" or any specific denomination. I have always read that the church (note that I did not capitalize) is merely a group of people gathering in the name of Jesus Christ to worship Him and hopefully learn more about how to be like Him. Today's church is actually quite differnt from the church of Jesus' time that most likely met in small groups in a home and was MUCH less formal than today.

4. I am uncomfortable with the way you use the word sin to refer to contraception. Just because contraception MAY have led to "objectification of sex" which led to something else which led to something else doesn't make it a "sin." Man is sinful in nature and will kill babies whether or not there's contraception. I'm not familiar with any biblical teachings regarding contraception, just Church teachings.

I guess there was more I wanted to comment about than I thought!

Have a great day!

Brendan Koop said...

Anonymous:

Again, thank you for your comment. Just like Sarah I must also commend you for your charity in your writing! Independent of this discussion, is there anything more annoying (or scandalous) than reading an online discussion in a forum or blog where Christians are simply attacking each other instead of discussing things in charity? We’ve all seen it, and it drives me crazy when I see it. Thanks to all for not being “those people” :-) And just to reiterate what you said, I’m also not offended in the least by anything you’ve said, all I’m concerned about is the truth and I have no personal bone to pick or need to be “right” independent of the truth.

Oh, and I also understand if you personally don’t think you’d like the continue the discussion; it’s totally up to you. I will respond to a few of your points here, but I understand if you don’t want to respond further. Though I have a need to “cover all the bases” in my response, I don’t expect that you necessarily have the time to write a response to everything I write.

And one other thing I did want to disclaim is that when I refer to “the Church” I am referring to the Catholic Church, and I hope non-Catholic Christians will forgive this reference. Foremost is that for Catholics this is the phrase that is almost always used to describe the Catholic Church, and it’s certainly something that I believe, but it’s also just plain easier to write since it’s shorter.

Okay, anyway, on to the responses.

“You talk a lot about the ‘Church’ and its teachings. I try my best to lean on Christ's teachings and the Bible.”

-- I guess you could probably reference my response to Sarah again to see why this is problematic, at the very least from the Catholic perspective, because you are your own authority. Essentially you can interpret scripture in whatever way seems best, and certainly this may be out of alignment with the truth. And any such lack of truth in interpretation cannot be thought of as being trivial, because it can involve something as fundamental as salvation (how one comes to be saved through Jesus Christ). By what authority can you say that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are incorrect in their interpretation of scripture and salvation (which I think we would agree they are incorrect)? By what authority can you say that Mormons are incorrect in their interpretation of scripture and salvation (which again I think we would agree that they are incorrect)? Both these groups are doing the same as you, trying their best to “lean on Christ’s teachings and the Bible.” There just isn’t any foundation to stand on there, we can all claim that we have been lead to the truth by the Holy Spirit, and this is why Christ never meant for this situation to happen and why he founded a visible Church on earth that has authority via the protection from error by the Holy Spirit.

I should also clarify what is meant by “Church teachings.” What the Church does when it “teaches” is to interpret or rule on whether an issue at hand is part of, or in keeping with, the “deposit of faith” that was handed to her by Christ (the Church typically being referenced in the feminine as the “bride of Christ”). The Catholic Church does not add to revelation, and has in fact stated authoritatively that public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle, and that there will be no more public revelation until the end of time and the final judgment. So, when a Catholic says they trust in the teaching authority of the Church, it’s really saying two things: that they trust solely in the Word of God and revealed truth, AND that they trust in the Catholic Church as having the authority to interpret the Word of God and revealed truth and articulate it in regard to a myriad of issues that the Bible does not directly address, or for which there are many supposed interpretations (not all of them being true). These two are intertwined and inseparable. To say that one trusts solely in Christ’s teachings is also saying that one trusts in one’s own ability to interpret those teachings truthfully, and simply on a human level it’s just not possible. If it was, there would be a universal consensus on every important issue of the Christian faith, and that obviously doesn’t exist.

“You say that ‘Human beings are fallible, and their interpretation of the Bible can be fallible (or their interpretation of how the Holy Spirit is leading them)’ but then, from my perspective, contradict yourself by saying, ‘we can trust in the authoritative teaching of the Church on these matters,’ … Isn't the Church made up of human beings? Aren't the Pope and bishops human beings?”

--Absolutely, yes they are, and they are sinful human beings just like the rest of us (though I will say that we’ve been blessed with some very holy, saintly men in the recent history of the papacy). But it’s no contradiction to say on the one hand that human beings are fallible, and on the other hand that the Church is protected from error in its teaching on the faith by the Holy Spirit (despite the Church’s magisterium being made up of human beings). First, in the case of the Church’s magisterium, there is only one authority that is being spoken of. Each individual human being cannot be their own authority, guided by the Holy Spirit, because, again, if we could be then there would be universal consensus on all of the important issues of the faith, and that clearly does not exist. In the Church we have ONE authority to go to for the truth. Second, we know that human beings can be protected from error and given authority (through the Holy Spirit) straight from the Bible. For instance, Christ speaking to Simon (Peter – “Rock”), Mt 16:18-19: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Christ himself just gave spiritual authority to a human being, that’s quite stunning. Of course this in no way means that Peter could do whatever he wanted, and heaven would just have to go along with it. It means that Peter’s authority (the first pope) is indistinguishable from the authority of the Holy Spirit, and that the two are one, and that it is not possible for Peter to err in teaching regarding the faith. Secondly, we have Christ speaking to his apostles, Jn 20:23 – “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Again, pretty stunning. These are human beings after all, and yet they have been given authority by Christ to forgive sins. Here, as Catholics believe, we have the foundation of the visible Church founded by Christ being granted the authority that still subsists today in the successors of Peter and the apostles, the Pope and the bishops. There is no possibility of human infallibility, but with the protection of the Holy Spirit, it is possible and it’s a necessary and wonderful gift.

“I have always read that the church (note that I did not capitalize) is merely a group of people gathering in the name of Jesus Christ to worship Him and hopefully learn more about how to be like Him. Today's church is actually quite different from the church of Jesus' time that most likely met in small groups in a home and was MUCH less formal than today.”

--This is a mistaken impression of many non-Catholic Christians I meet, which I think is mostly due to an unfamiliarity with the writings of the earliest Christians and the early Church fathers (though I am generalizing and don’t know what your own familiarity is with them). This is why I recommend to any Christian to go and read the writings (the direct source material) of any Church father; I have no qualms about this because they so overwhelmingly support the Catholic Church’s teachings and display the unity of the Church’s worship in the mass all the way back to the time of the earliest Christians. For instance, take a look at what St. Justin wrote to the pagan emperor Antonius Pius in the year 155 A.D. explaining how Christians worshipped:

“On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits. When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things. Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves . . .and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation. When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss. Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts. When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.' When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the ‘eucharisted’ bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.” – St. Justin, Apol. 1, 65-67: PG 6, 428-429

This IS the Catholic mass. Simply attend a Catholic mass, and each and every one of these actions is present, and even in the same order! It’s amazing! I could also attach tons of references that show that belief in the Eucharist as the real presence of Christ was UNIVERSAL and indeed the reverence with which it is spoken of is striking.

Furthermore, even secular historians agree that apostolic authority was transferred from the apostles to successors, including from St. Peter to St. Linus in the year 67, so that even at the very earliest stages the Church had bishops and a Pope who had authority through apostolic succession. And that succession has continued, unbroken, and can be traced historically straight to today. For instance, see this link. So, to answer your question, and not intending to be offensive, but if the early Christians, those who met in small groups in households, were transported to today they’d have a hard time recognizing or understanding any non-liturgical worship, and they would understand very well what they saw in the mass of the Catholic Church as has continued to today.

“I am uncomfortable with the way you use the word sin to refer to contraception. Just because contraception MAY have led to "objectification of sex" which led to something else which led to something else doesn't make it a "sin." Man is sinful in nature and will kill babies whether or not there's contraception. I'm not familiar with any biblical teachings regarding contraception, just Church teachings.”

--Forget for a moment the horrible evils that have resulted from contraception. The results of contraception are not what makes it as sin. As the Catholic Church teaches, contraception is inherently sinful. That is to say, it of its very nature is contrary to God’s will. I apologize for being blunt, and I completely realize that anyone who is not Catholic (and heck, many, many Catholics) have a hard time with this teaching. But, the act of separating the possibility of procreation with the sexual union is contrary to natural law, to the way God designed our bodies. This is why the Church upholds the beauty of the sexual union in God’s design, and interfering with that via a chemical or barrier or any such means separates the God’s design and intention for sex (unity of husband and wife and procreation). This is really a whole other topic that could be expounded upon, but I’ve gone on quite too long already. I certainly would be happy to write more if desired and am always will to engage anyone on this topic and the truth of the Church’s teaching in this area.

Jenny C. said...

Thanks everyone for all of their thoughtful posts. These issues aren't easy as they have obviously divided Christians since the Reformation and over 20,000 denominations later we are still praying and discussing....

I wanted to respond to a comment from the latest post.

'You say that "Human beings are fallible, and their interpretation of the Bible can be fallible (or their interpretation of how the Holy Spirit is leading them)" but then, from my perspective, contradict yourself by saying, "we can trust in the authoritative teaching of the Church on these matters,"'

The idea that difficult theological or moral issues can be defined definitely by the magesterium is taken directly from scripture. It is not a new or Catholic idea.

In Acts 15: 1-12 the new Christian church is divided over whether Gentile Christians need to be circumsized to be saved or not.

"Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, 'Unless you are circumcised according to Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.' Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question."

They could not go back and find the answer directly from the teachings of Christ, so a decision needed to be made interpreting His teachings.

After the apostles met, Peter gave a definitive answer to the people that because God purifies our hearts no circumsision is necessary. I'm sure there were many holy people who passionately disagreed with this decision. It contradicted what they had been taught their whole lives.

Peter also didn't say that it was up to each Christian commuity to develop their own teachings on the issue and to pray to the Holy Spirit for direction. He gave an answer for the Church and it was expected to be followed universally.

When we look to the Magisterium for answers to sort out difficult questions, we are not only relying on other fallible human beings but following the structure Jesus put in place to help the Church to remain one body. We trust when the Church gives a definitive anwer or teaching that the Holy Spirit protects these fallible human beings from error. It is a matter of faith. But I trust that Jesus didn't want 20,000 denominations teaching 20,000 different things. That's not the way the early church worked in scripture and I believe it breaks His heart to see our disunity at this point in time.

To me the teachings and magisterium of the Church are such a gift. I don't feel like I have to discern the meaning of scripture or difficult moral issues all on my own. If I am unsure in my prayer and Scripture study I can look to Church teachings for guidance. In the past if I had a belief that contradicted the teachings of the Church it sent me back to study and pray for further discernment so that I obey the teaching enthusiastically. I only feel that my heart has been opened wider and wider to the grace of God through His Catholic Church. I am very grateful.

Sarah said...

On the last comment:
What do you think the apostles went to when they made a decision regarding said circumcision? They didn't just decide. They searched the question using the Old Testament (which they had available to them and which can be used as an entire symbolic picture of things to come in the New) and they concurred about the teachings of Jesus. I do agree that in a sense it is dangerous to hold a view that comes from your own interpretation of Scripture and is contrary to what believers around you think - on issues in which Scripture is not plain. However, that is why Jesus (the head of the Church) told us that we are part of the body of believers. A hand cannot function alone. A nose would be pretty useless if it wasn't attached to the body. Therefore, for an evangelical believer of Christ, we are encouraged to seek the guidance of fellow believers, of pastors, priests, others whom we respect as having a heart that desires to follow Jesus in obedience to His Word. People who don't do this and just decide for themselves to take a firm view of something and declare it to be "right" or "wrong" without seeking this guidance may possibly find themselves leading a cult.
By the way, when I referenced "Church" earlier, I was referring to the Church Christ directly set up: The Church where by the name of Jesus, all believers, whether Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, etc. can call themselves a part of. This is a Biblical view, especially considering that when Jesus is talking to Peter in the already much-quoted verse and uses the word "Rock" seemingly twice, due to the nature of the words used in the original language, when Jesus says, "Upon this rock.." He may actually be referring to the declaration itself made by Peter in the previous verses that Jesus is the Son of God. I say "may" because I haven't actually researched this for myself, just read other writings on it.
Brendan, forgive me here if I'm repeating myself a bit, but I still feel that you are using information to back up pretty foundational stuff that is extra-Biblical. I choose to rely on intra-Biblical information.
As I know I said before, we have vastly different foundational definitions for words such as "Church" which are pivotal points to each argument.
I don't want to just argue with you about points which neither one of us most likely will be changing our minds on any time soon :) but as stated in Scripture, I do want to be an encourager to you in our common faith in Christ. For this purpose, I hope that we can continue to have these "gentle" converstations.
One more thing (I'm writing while on vacation here, allow me some disorganized thoughts): I am curious what other evidences you can show (besides the "Churches'" writings) to enlighten on the topic of the eucharist and the actual body and blood of Christ being present. Now, Biblically, I read that Christ, while communing with His apostles for the last time, says "This is my body" and "This is my blood", but being as He hadn't died yet and was sitting right there in front of them, surely the apostles even realized the symbolic way in which He was speaking.

Sarah said...

Molly, look what you started! :)

Brendan Koop said...

Sarah:

I really hope that this conversation has not burdened your vacation, I know if I was on vacation I wouldn't want to be typing!

Just to comment regarding Acts 15, this is kind of the issue. The Old Testament commanded that all males must be circumcized, so the Old Testament certainly wasn't used to support the conclusion that Peter announced. In fact, this conclusion was the opposite of what the Old Testament commanded. And it's likely that Jesus never spoke directly about this issue, or the apostles would not have taken such pains to discuss the matter. But one thing's for sure, if Christ directly addressed it, it's not documented in the Bible. So here we have the apostles themselves going to an authority that you would have to label as "extra-Biblical". And yet they made their decision, with Peter having the final say, and publicized their decision without the benefit of any scriptural reference to support it. Here was the earliest form of the Church being guided by the protection of the Holy Spirit to the truth, just as Christ promised to his apostles.

"I do agree that in a sense it is dangerous to hold a view that comes from your own interpretation of Scripture and is contrary to what believers around you think - on issues in which Scripture is not plain. However, that is why Jesus (the head of the Church) told us that we are part of the body of believers. A hand cannot function alone. A nose would be pretty useless if it wasn't attached to the body. Therefore, for an evangelical believer of Christ, we are encouraged to seek the guidance of fellow believers, of pastors, priests, others whom we respect as having a heart that desires to follow Jesus in obedience to His Word."

I totally am not intending to harp on this, but logically or even just experientially I think we can see that this can't be true. If it were true, wouldn't there be evidence that such an arrangement works? There have been lots of people who have found believers around them who agree with their interpretation, it's part of why there are now thousands of Christian denominations. Without one authority, we are left to form factions and groups that all disagree with each other at some level, and the truth simply cannot be known. Each believes they are right. Logically, there really is no middle ground: there either is an earthly authority that is supernaturally protected from error in it's teaching and interpretation, or there is no such authority and we're all our own authority (with groups forming of like-minded people) and we cannot definitively know the truth. Everyone's opinion is just as valid as the next person's; a veritable sea of Christian relativism. This is not God's plan.

Just real briefly regarding Mt 16:16-19, I can resolve this question for you (or give you resources if you'd like more information) but what you are alluding to has been tried by a few who are willing only to stop at the Greek that the text was written in, and decide they'd rather not go to the original Aramaic that the text was actually spoken in. The two "rocks" quoted here are both the exact same word in Aramaic -- "Kepha". So it would take some fairly inventive reading to consider the sentence in any way other that what Christ was plainly saying in the Aramaic language of the apostles: "You are rock, and upon this rock I will build my church..."

"Brendan, forgive me here if I'm repeating myself a bit, but I still feel that you are using information to back up pretty foundational stuff that is extra-Biblical. I choose to rely on intra-Biblical information."

I'm not sure which of my writings you are referring to here, but again you at least must realize that you are relying on, as you would say, "extra-biblical" information in multiple ways. First, the books that make up the Bible itself were decided "extra-biblically", by the Church (with the protection from the Holy Spirit from error). So you are relying on this in going to the Bible for any information. You wouldn't be able to say whether any of the books of the Bible are inspired without resting on this extra-Biblical authority.

If you are referring to my reference to the quote of St. Justin, wouldn't you want to know what the earliest Christians thought about the faith and how they worshiped? I'm not speaking metaphorically of you or anyone in particular here, but if I learned that the earliest Christians UNIVERSALLY upheld the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist in all of their writings, and I did not believe in such a thing based on my own interpretation of the Bible, upon learning this it would certainly give me pause.

Which I guess is a segue into the question regarding the Eucharist. John 6 certainly is a heavy hitter in the Biblical evidence for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and it's Christ himself speaking to the Jewish crowd (I'll quote from verse 51 onward, the bold is my emphasis):

"'I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.' This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper'na-um. Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?' But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, 'Do you take offense at this?'"

It's very, very difficult to argue that one must take other parts of Bible literally and argue that we shouldn't be taking John 6 literally. Jesus was as clear as he possibly could be, and the Jews clearly understood he was speaking literally, as they quarreled amongst themselves asking "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" I don't blame them, I'd be saying the same thing! And Jesus did not back down; he did not try to clarify "what I meant by 'bread' is actually the words I'm speaking, not my actual flesh." No, he said "Do you take offense at this?" to his disciples. In fact, starting again at verse 66 it says "After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you also wish to go away?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.'" Christ is not trying to call his disciples back to explain, he turns to his apostles and says, "Do you also wish to go away."

Of course, it is not surprising that his apostles did not understand what he was talking about... until of course the last supper. Now Christ's meaning is clear, he is instituting a new covenant in his body and blood (as he himself says), and he uses the same words and phrases that he used in John 6. Your comment regarding the order of events in terms of his crucifixion is really more relevant to whether one considers the Last supper to be a "sacrifice" united to his act on the cross, which is a different discussion, but certainly Christ has no limitations in terms of the changing of the substance of the bread and wine into his body and blood, he is God. The crucifixion did not need to come first, in order for Christ to institute this sacrament. There are other reasons that he did this at the last supper as well; as you know it was passover. So instead of eating the flesh of a spotless lamb per Jewish tradition and spreading its blood on the doorposts in order to be saved (physically), Christ is directly substituting himself (the lamb of God) as the spotless lamb and the apostles eat his flesh (the Eucharist) in place of the flesh of the lab and drink his blood in place of spreading the blood of the lamb on the doorposts (giving graces for spiritual salvation). The parallels are quite striking, but these parallels not withstanding, the main point is that there is ample evidence in scripture for the Eucharist being the real presence of Christ. In fact, consider Paul: "'Therefore whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. . . . For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself'" (1 Cor. 11:27, 29) This is why Catholics take care to instruct non-Catholic Christians who may be attending mass to not receive the Eucharist, because to do so without discerning that it is the real presence of Christ risks bringing judgment on themselves, and Catholics want to protect others from this (and of course it is also the teaching of the Church that non-Catholics are not to receive the Eucharist in part for this same reason).

I don't want to make this another one of my trademark long writings (too late, it already is), but it's so important to illustrate what the early Christians believed about the Eucharist with just a few quotes. Consider these quotes, and the fact that (I guess you'll have to take my word for it, though you certainly can check for yourself) there isn't one early Christian writing that attempts to argue that Christ was talking symbolically about his body and blood, and I think it has to give one pause.

Ignatius of Antioch, in 110 A.D., refers to "those who hold heterodox opinions" saying that they must "abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again" - (Letter to the Smyraneans 6:2, 7:1)

Justin Martyr, 150 A.D. - "Not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, . . . is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66:1–20).

Origen, homily written in 244 A.D. - "I wish to admonish you with examples from your religion. You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. You account yourselves guilty, and rightly do you so believe, if any of it be lost through negligence" (Homilies on Exodus 13:3).

Cyril of Jerusalem, lecture from the mid 300's A.D. - "Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the body and blood of Christ" (Catechetical Discourses: Mystagogic 4:22:9).

Theodore of Mopsuestia, approx. 440 A.D. - "When [Christ] gave the bread he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my body,’ but, ‘This is my body.’ In the same way, when he gave the cup of his blood he did not say, ‘This is the symbol of my blood,’ but, ‘This is my blood,’ for he wanted us to look upon the [Eucharistic elements], after their reception of grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit, not according to their nature, but to receive them as they are, the body and blood of our Lord" (Catechetical Homilies 5:1).

There are so many more that I skipped, it's actually quite extensive and I can give you a fuller list if you'd like. In addition to scripture, this is all so very relevant because it's history. It's what the early Christians believed as it was handed down to them by the apostles, and gives a measure of evidence about the truth of the Catholic Church's teaching and the true interpretation of scripture on this matter. Disbelief in the real presence of Christ by any Christians is actually a relatively new novelty in Christian history.

If I can suggest anything from this entire, huge conversation it would to simply take one issue, the Eucharist, and research it for yourself by reading scripture and the writings of the early Christians. Certainly it still comes down to a question of authority, but perhaps you haven’t really had an opportunity to research the plausibility of that authority in terms of a specific issue, such as the Eucharist. If I could suggest a couple great resources, Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words and The Mass of the Early Christians are both very good and have a wonderful compilation of relevant writings, but you could go right to the source material if you liked. Just research and see what you find. It certainly can't hurt, and I know you are always open to and have a concern for the truth and so you wouldn’t want to leave this stone unturned. Just approach it with an open mind, even as an exercise in increasing your familiarity with how the early Christians worshipped.

Hopefully you won't take that suggestion as being too forward and honestly know that I suggest it as a brother in Christ. Hopefully Brian won't be too offended either! Again, we love both of you guys very much.

Anonymous said...

If you are taking so literally Jesus flesh and blood that must be eaten in order to be saved I would assume that you would take all Bible passages that literally. If your eyes cause you to sin do you gouge one out for example? And if the Bible is to be taken so literally why hasn't the Catholic Church taken a formal stance on a literal 6-day creation? That's laid out pretty plainly in Genesis 1. The sun rose the sun set and that was day....

You quote all of these other teachings and writings. I thought you said man was fallible. I doubt someone in 110 AD or 400 AD ever met Jesus. Would you also consider the Book of Thomas and Mary Magdalene that say Jesus was married to Mary.

Also, you keep referring to these thousands (20,000?) Christian denominations. True they have differing opinions but it is not on fundamentals like Jesus is the only way to Heaven and communion is a literal conversion to Christ's body and blood. Roman Catholicism is the only denomonation that I am aware of that considers itself the one true Christian religion.

I think this may be my last post. I fear that I am becoming too angry in my words and would hate to say something hurtful.

Thank you for your patience, Brendan.

Molly Koop said...

Sarah, I guess I did start something! :) Although it may seem that I started a conversation and then ducked out, I want you to know that I stand with Brendan on these issues. He's simply the one in our marriage that a) has the ability to stay up all hours of the night "blogging" and b) has the capacity to type information quickly and clearly. :)

I think his suggestion about studying the Eucharist is a good idea. The events leading up to the institution of the Eucharist (there is so much foreshadowing this beautiful sacrament in the Old Testament, namely, the instructions given by God for the Passover Meal are quite overwhelming and confirm that the Apostles saw Christ's words during the Last Supper to be literal, not symbolic), the fulfillment in the Last Supper, and the clear historical accounts in the writings of the early Christians are all references you could go to. It was really key for me to understand that for centuries after Christ's resurrection the entire church believed the Eucharist to be REALLY Christ and not just a symbol of his body. The early Christians were the ones closest to the Apostles who were taught directly by Christ. And I can testify to the incredible gift that the Eucharist has been in my life.

In any case, this conversation is a good one; and we will only deepen our relationship with the Lord as we seek to know the truth.

Brendan Koop said...

Anonymous:

You're right, if Christ simply left it at John 6, we'd be pretty confused and wouldn't have any way to comprehend what he said. The difference here, in contrast with just a simple metaphor, is that Christ showed us what he meant in the Last Supper. You combine John 6 with the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper and again it's hard to argue that Christ wasn't very clear in his meaning. Certainly the early Christians weren't arguing about his meaning. The reason the writings of the early Christians matter is not because they are infallible, or that they are inspired, it's to illustrate how the early Christians interpreted these passages, and the fact that they are universal in their upholding of the Eucharist as being the real presence of Christ. If you were to argue that the Eucharist is simply a symbol, not only would I want to hear your scriptural argument for that but (in absence of an authority that validates your interpretation) I'd want to know whether the earliest Christians also agreed with you. I'd also want to know how long your belief has historically been held, and what the root of it was, and whether it would seem to be the predominant belief of Christianity historically. I would take these all into consideration (if I was interpretting things on my own). Your example regarding the Book or "Gospel" of Thomas (one of the gnostic Gospels) wouldn't hold up as a good source to cite on any subject simply because it can be easily shown that it disagrees with the vast majority of Christian writing AND in some cases contradicts scripture. This isn't the case with the Eucharist and early Christian writings.

In terms of the number of Christian denominations, anything more the 1 is a scandal in our witness to the world. So I would feel the same whether there are 2, 5, 10, 100, 1,000, or 10,000 denominations. In point of fact there are even more, which you can probably look up on the internet in different places. Here's one study that cites 38,000 denominations. Certainly, there's got to be a lot of tiny denominations in that number, and yes I would say that there are likely ways you could group these denominations into groups where predominantly the same beliefs are held. But also just as certainly those number of groups would not equal 1, and the disagreements among the groups would include the most fundamental issues all the way down to salvation. This is why the Lord knew that an earthly authority was necessary that is protected from error and founded the Church such that the "gates of Hell could not prevail against it".

I appreciate your charitable discussion and your comments, God bless you!

Sarah said...

Brendan,
I'd like to respond to some things addressed by "Anonymous" in the last comment, and also by you in your last comment.
First of all, the Eucharist. Everything I'm hearing you (and Molly too) say about this being a wonderful practice and a holy rite, and such, I actually agree wholeheartedly on. But what makes it any more special for you just because you believe that the bread and wine are actually the body and blood of Jesus? It is a very special practice for me as well, while viewing the elements as symbols of those same elements. As for my basis for my belief, I would site John 6:53-63. Jesus himself said that the words he had spoken "are spirit" (v. 63). Here is an indication that He did not really expect them to take His words literally. I agree that the picture Jesus gives in these verses is intensely symbolic of Jewish rites that all Jews were very familiar with, and the picture is more significant and meaningful for a believer because of it. But I'd have to say that the apostles were very aware as well that Jesus was speaking symbolically here.
The Pharisees and teachers of the Law had great argument with Jesus, because He was renouncing some of their teachings and showing them constantly how the literal in the Old Testament was a picture of things to come (SPIRIT) in the New Testament. i.e. the daily sacrifices, the painting of the doorway with blood on Passover, etc. These teachers had been doing things their way for many, many years! Jesus was well-aware of their claim on their handle of the truth. "We have Abraham as our father!"
It seems that your argument that "this is the way 'the Church' has been doing things for years" is a bit of a smokescreen.
One more note on the Eucharist: Catholics put great emphasis on the sacred bread and wine because of their belief that it actually is the body and blood. Seems that this belief puts more emphasis on the symbols than on what it symbolizes.
On many denominations:
You said, "anything more than 1 is a scandal in our witness to the world."
I'm assuming that you are once again alluding to your point of the Catholic church being the one True Church.
If this is true, the rest of us are in a sense living in sin. So you should be trumpeting this in the streets.
Going back to some previous talks about not trusting an individual enough to interpret the Holy Spirit's leading, and therefore the Catholic church takes a stand on an issue that may be too modern to be formally addressed in Scripture: I see this as a HUGE danger. Nowhere in Scripture is the Holy Spirit given to an institution, but to individuals. And I would say that no, there is not really ONE TRUE MEANING to a lot of the stuff that Christians generally argue about. There is ONE God. That is an undisputed fact. Jesus died and rose again. Same. But, according to Hebrews 4:12, "the Word of God is living and active". The Holy Spirit reveals to individuals things meant for the time and place of that particular individual. And a verse I read last week will not necessarily strike me the same way as when I read it again today. There are many hidden (and revealed) meanings in Scripture. Now, I don't want to be misunderstood here as saying that these verses can mean anything we want them to mean. But God is not so one-dimensional that He cannot have hundreds, thousands, infinite meanings inside of Scripture. For instance, prophecy in Scripture is very often dually (or more) fulfilled.
A church's stance on an issue can surely guide an individual, but I would not leave it at that. Search and study on a personal level and rely on the Spirit's leading. When I see Him face to face someday, I don't want Jesus to say, "Why didn't you believe this? It was right there plain as day in Scripture!" and my answer to be, "But that's how the church did it for centuries!"
Just as a side note, I'd be interested to hear your comment on the 6 days of creation that "anonymous" brought up.

I hope my thoughts are coherent. It's time for lunch!

Brendan Koop said...

Hi Sarah. I keep trying and trying to keep these short, but it’s impossible! (for me)

“First of all, the Eucharist. Everything I'm hearing you (and Molly too) say about this being a wonderful practice and a holy rite, and such, I actually agree wholeheartedly on. But what makes it any more special for you just because you believe that the bread and wine are actually the body and blood of Jesus?”

Consider a moment that, hypothetically, in one room you are told lays an object that is meant to symbolize Christ, and in the next room is Christ our Lord himself, physically incarnate. I know you would be a little more interested in going in that second room. It’s the difference between being in the physical presence of God, actually physically receiving God into our body, and not. You can let me know if I’m off base, but it seems what you really may be asking is “why does it matter?”, i.e. what is the spiritual significance of the Eucharist being Christ’s actual body and blood and not just a symbol of his body and blood? To answer this you would have to ask the question, did Christ institute sacraments, physical means of spiritually imparting his graces to his children? If he did, then why did he do so? Why isn’t everything just “spiritual?” God is clearly an incarnational God; anyone who has a hard time believing that the Eucharist can be the real presence of God should also have an equally if not more of a hard time believing that God became a man. After all, certainly God did not have to become man, he could have in an instant chosen to reconcile us to himself. But he went beyond that and became man, and physically suffered for us, and died on a cross and rose again, in part to tell us and show us (physically) just how much he loves us. This is why the Gnostic heresy (which some Christians come dangerously close to) is in fact a heresy: the idea that physical world is inherently evil and that everything physical must be rejected and only the spiritual is to be valued. Think about baptism, for instance. I think it puzzles and even troubles a lot of Christians that we are told by Christ himself and his apostles in scripture that we must be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. What does having water poured over our head have to really do with anything? Surely it is just the spiritual act of repenting and accepting Jesus as Lord that is all that matters, is it not? Christ himself says, most certainly, “no” or he never would have commanded such an action. It is precisely because Christ has infused this act of having water poured over one’s head, and being verbally baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, with special graces that wipe away the stain of original sin and make salvation possible. He has united a physical act with spiritual grace. This is precisely what he also did with the Eucharist, he instituted a sacrament that allows us access to graces in the most special and profound way possible, by actually physically receiving him into our body.

“As for my basis for my belief, I would site John 6:53-63. Jesus himself said that the words he had spoken "are spirit" (v. 63). Here is an indication that He did not really expect them to take His words literally. I agree that the picture Jesus gives in these verses is intensely symbolic of Jewish rites that all Jews were very familiar with, and the picture is more significant and meaningful for a believer because of it. But I'd have to say that the apostles were very aware as well that Jesus was speaking symbolically here.”

There’s just no evidence you could give to support the statement “that the apostles were very aware as well that Jesus was speaking symbolically here.” It seems that you might be saying “I really feel that the apostles thought this was a symbol, and even further I feel that they really were sure about it.” I apologize for putting words in your mouth, I’m only trying to illustrate by way of example what I think you are in effect saying. I guess I would just point out that in addition to not having supporting scriptural evidence, this viewpoint is totally isolated from that of the earliest Christians who were handed the Gospel, who would have, according to their own writings, universally disagreed with you. Listen to Protestant historian J.N.D. Kelley: “Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Savior’s body and blood" (Early Christian Doctrines, 440). What I’m trying to illustrate is that believing a scriptural interpretation to be true which disagrees with the universal writings of the early Christians is akin to claiming that someone who’s participating in a game of “telephone operator” and is at the end of the line somehow is in a position to know the original intent better than the person who is second in line, right next to the source. I’m not saying this proves the point, but I am saying that you’d have to argue why the early Christians were universally wrong in their interpretation (which was handed down to them by the apostles through Church authority) and your interpretation is the correct one.

As far as Christ stating in verse 63: “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life”, this dovetails exactly with his previous statement in verse 57-58: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” The consecrated Eucharist, though the flesh and blood of Christ, is not meant to be physical food, but rather spiritual food for our souls. The ancestors ate food in the desert, but they still died. The Eucharist is, as Christ says “real food, and my blood, real drink” because it feeds our soul instead of our body. Our body will die, but it is our soul that we should be concerned about feeding. And note that Christ says “so he who eats me will live because of me.” He who eats me? I just don’t know how much more explicit he could have possibly gotten. I guess you’d have to think, if Christ really was trying to get across that the Eucharist was really his flesh and blood, what more could he have said, or how else could he have phrased things, that would have really been convincing? I’m not expecting to “argue” you over, that’s not really possible, but these are important things to think about.

” These [Pharisees] had been doing things their way for many, many years! Jesus was well-aware of their claim on their handle of the truth. ‘We have Abraham as our father!’
It seems that your argument that ‘this is the way 'the Church' has been doing things for years’ is a bit of a smokescreen.”


Again, the distinction between personal actions and personal sin, versus God-given authority and the ability to authoritatively teach. This is something you really have to keep separate in your mind, because if we keep looking for impeccability in Church leaders we’re never going to find it. It’s the “teaching office” that has been protected from error, not the person’s actions. You really just have to go straight to Mt 23:1-3: “Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.’” It’s pretty clear, Christ himself noted that the Pharisees had spiritual authority (they sit on “Moses’ seat”, the figurative term for Moses’ teaching office), an even commanded for the crowds and disciples to “practice and observe whatever they tell you.” Pretty amazing for some unquestionably sinful men. Also note the parallel; Christ here recognizes the authority of an established teaching office (held by men) that has been handed down in succession from the original authority, Moses. It is no leap to note that Christ established a new earthly authority in Peter (Mt 16:16-19) and his apostles and that his teaching office has been handed down in succession to this day through the Pope and holds the same authority and protection from error in teaching the faith (no matter how sinful the man who holds that office).

“One more note on the Eucharist: Catholics put great emphasis on the sacred bread and wine because of their belief that it actually is the body and blood. Seems that this belief puts more emphasis on the symbols than on what it symbolizes.”

I’m not sure what you mean here. Catholics don’t believe the consecrated bread and wine are symbols, Catholics believe they are the real presence of Christ, so this belief puts all the emphasis on Christ.

“On many denominations: You said, ‘anything more than 1 is a scandal in our witness to the world.’ I'm assuming that you are once again alluding to your point of the Catholic church being the one True Church. If this is true, the rest of us are in a sense living in sin. So you should be trumpeting this in the streets.”

Here’s what Christ desires: John 17:21-23, Jesus praying, “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.”

So when I say any “denomination” greater that 1 is a scandal, first and foremost because it is directly the opposite of what Christ desired, and second because it gives a horrible witness to the world. But, I do want to comment on what you said because I think it’s important for Catholics to clear up the logical conclusion you reached. The first issue is the phrase “one true church.” Yes it is true that Catholics believe that Christ founded one Church, he certainly didn’t want more than that (and he certainly wouldn’t have wanted one invisible church with lots of denominations all disagreeing with each other). But it isn’t the case that if the Catholic Church has the “fullness” of the truth, others must necessarily have zero truth. The Catholic Church doesn’t teach this. What she does say is that all Christians are united to the Church by valid baptism (and the Church recognizes any baptism as valid that meets the conditions set forth in scripture), which also makes us brothers and sisters in Christ. But, to the extent that sin has divided Christians over the course of history, the Church would say that our current condition today is that there are Christians who are not in “full communion” with the Church and are not perfectly united to her (in many cases through no fault of their own, but through inheriting this separation). This is also why the Church would definitely not say that you are living in sin. We each must pursue the truth and always be open to it. If one is honestly doing that and, due to barriers that have been put in place via the sin of Christians and through no fault of their own, do not arrive at the fullness of the truth, this does not prevent salvation. I’m not trying to be offensive or arrogant in any way, only communicating the Church’s view on this which you seemed to be interested in (and also to show why I am not out in the streets trumpeting that you are living in sin :-).

“Nowhere in Scripture is the Holy Spirit given to an institution, but to individuals.”

You wouldn’t expect that the Church existed prior to Christ founding it would you? In order to found an institution like a visible Church, you have to start with a group of individuals and a leader. That was Peter and the apostles. And virtually every verse where Christ is giving the protection of the Holy Spirit, he is doing it specifically to his apostles. Peter and the apostles have then handed down this authority to successors just as the successors of Moses, the Pharisees, held his authority (which Christ recognized).

“And I would say that no, there is not really ONE TRUE MEANING to a lot of the stuff that Christians generally argue about… Now, I don't want to be misunderstood here as saying that these verses can mean anything we want them to mean. But God is not so one-dimensional that He cannot have hundreds, thousands, infinite meanings inside of Scripture.”

You are, I think, confusing application of scripture to our daily experience and personal lives with authoritative meaning. There is most certainly one true meaning to many things in scripture. The Eucharist? It either is or it isn’t the real presence of Christ, it’s not one thing to one person and another thing to another person. Homosexual acts? They are either sinful or they are not. They are can’t be sinful sometimes and not sinful other times. Obviously there are so many others. Christ’s resurrection? Miracles? Can we be saved by intellectual assent alone? Once saved, always saved? These things are either true, or they are not true. And whatever the case, they apply to everyone. By arguing this way you are setting yourself up to allow relativism on a whole number of fronts. What happens when a JW comes to your door, how will you tell them they are wrong? What about when a liberal Christian tells you that scripture does not condemn homosexual acts? It’s really this line of argument that is dangerous, it opens you up to lots of problems. But certainly, the Church does not (or need to) render an authoritative opinion on every single verse in the Bible, and so there is lots of room for the Holy Spirit to lead us in how to apply a scriptural passage to our life. But that doesn’t grant us license to interpret scripture outside of the Church’s authority, or in opposition to it.

”When I see Him face to face someday, I don't want Jesus to say, "Why didn't you believe this? It was right there plain as day in Scripture!" and my answer to be, "But that's how the church did it for centuries!"

When I see Christ face to face, I don’t want Jesus to say, “Why did you believe things in conflict with my Church, whom I gave to you to interpret scripture and protect the faith? Why did you believe that you could interpret things on your own with no authority and arrive at my truth?” and my answer to be, “But I thought we were all supposed to read scripture and be guided by the Holy Spirit!”

Honestly, this truly is something I have thought deeply about, and this is why I submit to the authority of the Church. Boy, Christ would be asking the same question to every believer in your scenario, because if it was so plain as day in Scripture, we’d all interpret things the same way, and that obviously isn’t the case.

”Just as a side note, I'd be interested to hear your comment on the 6 days of creation that anonymous brought up.,

Here’s what the Church teaches on the subject: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 282-301. I would read those paragraphs to get a better understanding, it outlines very well what is theologically true and what believers must hold, while leaving legitimate scientific pursuit open to science. If you are asking whether the Church teaches that the universe was created in a literal 6 day period, the Church hasn’t authoritatively taught on this point (and likely never will) as the Church does not infringe on the legitimate pursuit of science, science is not the realm of the Church. All truth is God’s truth, and faith and reason can never conflict. Catholics are certainly free to believe in a literal 6-day creation, and I know Catholics who do, even some Catholic theologians who do. For instance, there is an annual conference in Virginia called the International Catholic Conference on Creation where theologians discuss the topic.

Sarah said...

What is more real? This present physical world or the spiritual world that we cannot see? I would argue for the latter. "These things are a great mystery". I very much agree with all you are theologically saying about the Eucharist, except for the actual turning into the body and blood. I'm not sure if you realize how close we are.

On Matthew 23:
I'm sure you've heard this before, but what about the rest of the chapter, starting at verse 8? Specifically verse 9. I am purposely not quoting it here.

I am still holding to this - Jesus did greatly desire unity in his CHURCH. And here is our difference - to state again - we part ways on the path at the point of what Christ means by the Church. Because I am so convinced of this, I will not write "I believe". Jesus did not establish the physical church on earth. He established the church of the body of believers, unified through one Spirit. Yes, there is a physical church as well, of course. But I am much more unified to my Lutheran ,Baptist, Catholic, etc. friends when we are outside of those particular churches and speaking of spiritual things, than when we are inside. The church is so obviously a man-made institution. Not that it isn't good, but the body of Christ, as Christ designed it, really is more unified than would appear, I believe.
Anyway, I would say that we are now at the point where the arguments are just not able to be reconciled to the same base, particularly because of your belief that Jesus set up the Catholic Church and instituted Peter as Pope. Now, if I believed that too, we would have a common ground to argue from, and our references might seem valid to the other.
Just a thought here: What does the term "be filled with the Spirit" mean to you? When I am filled with the Spirit, I cannot help but to act on it, whether the Church (your definition here) would agree or not. Seems like the Church (your definition here again) would greatly discourage individuals to be filled with the Spirit and just encourage them to trust in the Church and its authority.
I shouldn't even have brought up the "many interpretations" point because I know how it sounds and the words are too close to something that is done in many Christian circles today in order to make the Word more palatable for those who would label it too harsh and exclusive.
I am aware that the Catholic Church has no official position on the 6 "days" of creation.
Do you?

Brendan Koop said...

What is more real? This present physical world or the spiritual world that we cannot see? I would argue for the latter.

The question isn’t what’s more real or not, for certainly it is the latter, as you say. This world will pass away and seem but a shadow. However, we were created into being in this physical world, and God has chosen interact with us physically, as he himself became man. The sacraments Christ instituted are what the Church terms a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality. Physical and spiritual are completely intertwined, united into one, and this assists us, as physical human beings, in discerning and receiving the graces that God has made available to us through the sacraments. Of course in heaven there will be no need for sacraments, because we will be experiencing the spiritual reality in full.

As far as how close we are regarding the Eucharist, I’m glad to hear this. I just would encourage you to buy the two books I recommended and just read them and stay open regarding this topic. Anyone who searches for the truth is always open to hearing all of the information available, and the one thing I can guarantee is that, since this is pure history, it will be fascinating just to read what the earliest Christians did and how they worshipped.

”On Matthew 23: I'm sure you've heard this before, but what about the rest of the chapter, starting at verse 8? Specifically verse 9. I am purposely not quoting it here.”

Yes, a very common one brought up. Consider 1 Cor 4:14-15, Paul writing: “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel". There’s tons more where that came from, just illustrating that we are not prevented from calling our dads “father,” and we’re certainly not prevented from having spiritual “fathers” in the faith. What Jesus did not like, however, is the fact that Jewish leaders love “the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called ‘rabbi’ by men” (Matt. 23:6–7). This is the sin of pride, and in the context of the verses that surround verse 9 this meaning is clear. Verse 11: “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

But, again, though you didn’t address it, Christ clearly acknowledged an earthly teaching authority in the Pharisees, no matter how sinful they were, and commanded the crowds and his disciples to do “all that they tell you.” That’s pretty compelling.

”Jesus did not establish the physical church on earth. He established the church of the body of believers, unified through one Spirit. Yes, there is a physical church as well, of course. But I am much more unified to my Lutheran ,Baptist, Catholic, etc. friends when we are outside of those particular churches and speaking of spiritual things, than when we are inside.”

So actually, you may be closer than you realize to what the Catholic Church says. Physical Church buildings have little to do with a visible Church. The Church is the people of God, and this is what is taught by the Catholic Church. The term “visible” is meant to address those who claim the Church is completely invisible, i.e. some sort of ethereal union of souls, with no authority or structure. The difference would apparently still be “on who’s authority?”. Christ founded his Church with Peter and the apostles as the first guardians of the faith and leaders and he gave them teaching authority protected from error by the Holy Spirit, which has been passed down in succession, just as the “seat of Moses” was passed down in succession.

“The church is so obviously a man-made institution.”

I assume you are referring to the buildings here again. If you’re referring to the Catholic Church here, this is really the type of argument you have to avoid. It’s stated as an opinion with no supporting evidence, and if there is anything that this long conversation has shown it should be that it is not “so obvious”.

Just a thought here: What does the term "be filled with the Spirit" mean to you? When I am filled with the Spirit, I cannot help but to act on it, whether the Church (your definition here) would agree or not. Seems like the Church (your definition here again) would greatly discourage individuals to be filled with the Spirit and just encourage them to trust in the Church and its authority.

I think you are again mixing personal application with teaching authority. The Catholic Church certainly recognized that one can be filled with the Holy Spirit, heck we are members at a charismatic Catholic parish, you’d probably hear that phrase thrown around every other sentence at our parish :-) This difference though, is that our parish also completely submits to the teaching authority of the Church. You can be filled with the Holy Spirit and prompted to act to call a friend at bizarre time only to find out that it was when they needed you most. You can be filled with the Holy Spirit and given a special grace to really understand a change in your life that God wants you to make. Etc. Etc. BUT, you cannot be “filled with the Holy Spirit” and prompted to believe that the Eucharist is not the real presence of Christ, or to believe that homosexual acts are not a sin, or to believe that abortion is morally right, etc. etc. etc. What you are apparently saying is that your feeling of being prompted by the Holy Spirit is infallible, that it is always right and that you couldn’t misinterpret it, and that even if it disagreed with an issue that is black or white (right or wrong), you are the one who is right (even though the other guy down the street says he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” to come to the opposite conclusion). Or, if not, you’d have to believe that there are many “truths” and that you have discerned what God’s “truth” is for you, and that may differ from what God’s “truth” is for someone else. It’s either “personal authority” in interpreting scripture, or seemingly a form of spiritual relativism.

“I am aware that the Catholic Church has no official position on the 6 "days" of creation. Do you?

Boy, that better be a topic for a different day, or this post will be an encyclopedia! :-) I’d love to talk about it, maybe next time at Twin Cities Grille :-)

Sarah said...

Good idea, I realized after I wrote it that to actually address the issue here would make this the most commented-on post ever...