Transfiguration of the Son of Man

Jesus often refers to Himself as the Son of Man. It happens so often in each and every one of the Gospel accounts that it almost becomes cliche and, because of its pure saturation in Scripture, I would wager it often gets overlooked. The term Son of Man is in fact incredibly loaded and carries with it both a simple, mortal account and a complex, celestial account that are both equally rooted in the Old Testament.

There are many references to Son of Man throughout the Old Testament. However there are two contexts in which the title or phrase is used. In one context the phrase means mortal, or “mere man” (Num 23:1; Job 25:6; Ps 8:4; Sir 17:30). In this sense, when Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man, He may very well be calling Himself a human, the son of another human and therefore a human Himself. The problem with just that interpretation is that Jesus often linked His use of the term Son of Man with powerful divine prerogatives granted to Him. As the Son of Man, Jesus claims authority to forgive sins (Mk 2:10), suspend the Sabbath (Mk 2:28), judge men for their deeds (Jn 5:27) and even claims to have come down to Earth from Heaven (Jn 3:31). These are important claims to authority that are purposefully linked to Jesus being the Son of Man, and the reason is present within the Book of Daniel.

In chapter 7, the prophet Daniel spends a great deal of time and words imparting a jarring vision that he had while sleeping. In his dream, a series of beasts walk out of the sea in succession. These monsters, Daniel tells us, represent the pagan empires who are hostile to Israel. The most terrible and largest of these beasts is the fourth, who rises from the sea and begins to trample on the “saints of the Most High” (Dan 7:25). The vision suddenly cuts to a Heavenly court. A being “like a son of man” is escorted into the courtroom on the clouds of Heaven (Dan 7:13). During the trial, the son of man is deemed worthy and is given a kingdom that is unmatched in size and prestige to any in history. In addition to the coronation, the fourth beast is condemned by the court and its dominions are handed over to the son of man and the Saints of God (Dan 7:26-27).

In this version of the Son of Man, we see a being in the likeness of a human being granted authority over all of creation, including the dominions of the fourth beast. This is where Jesus anchors His claims to divine authority and it is why He is clear in linking the Son of Man with this divine majesty and power.

What does this have to do with the Transfiguration?

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. (Luke 9:28-29)

When Jesus takes the three up the mountain and is transfigured before them, His appearance and His being do not change outside of the confines of his manhood. Jesus is the Son of Man– God and human— in the same way that the term Son of Man has a meaning that is both humble and divinely profound. And when Jesus is transfigured to reveal His Glory and His favour with God, He remains human. We are told of how His being was altered but not so much that He was no longer recognizable to His friends. And neither were Moses or Elijah who came to join Jesus in His Glory. Jesus glorifies the human body in the same manner as He glorifies His Father as the Son of Man.

The Son of Man is a great mystery contained within the Catholic deposit of faith. But just because it is mystery does not mean that it lacks meaning and purpose sustained throughout the entire Gospels and Scripture.

Mary, Ark of the Covenant

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The Gospel according to Saint Luke tells us more about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, than any other book of the New Testament. The majority of this is a stringing of scripture from Israel into the infancy story of Christ in the first few chapters of the Gospel. The narrative itself is a delightfully layered perspective that hinges itself upon the founding of the nations of Israel with David’s efforts to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem which is capture in 2 Samuel.

There are subtle but significant links between Mary’s Visitation with Elizabeth and David’s efforts to move the Ark of the Covenant. For example, Luke writes that Mary “arose and went” to the Judean hill country to visit her family (1:39) which echos exactly what Samuel writes about how David “arose and went” into the exactly same region centuries before to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6:2). When Elizabeth sees Mary as she arrives she is struck with the same awe and fear that David felt upon seeing the Ark of the Covenant for the first time. The joy is echoed further when Elizabeth’s baby dances inside her similar to how David danced around the Ark (2 Sam 6:16) when she is in the presence of Mary carrying Jesus. And lastly, Luke tells us how Mary stayed for “three months” (1:40 56) with Zechariah’s family recollecting how the Ark of the Covenant was temporarily housed in the “house of Obed-edom” for a waiting period of “three months” (2 Sam 6:11). All together these themes form the basis of Mary being a sacred vessel which is housing God Himself, which is exactly the storyline present in David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and uniting the tribes of Israel.

There is another link that Luke draws from the Book of Chronicles that alludes to his own Greek upbringing. When Elizabeth bursts into a joyful cry at the presence of Mary and her Child, Luke uses the Greek term for “exclaimed,” which on its own seems entirely innocuous. Except that in the Greek manuscripts of Old Testament writings, the Greek term is only used five times and is never used again in any New Testament writing. And the only five times it is found in the OT are about stories concerning the Ark of the Covenant. Luke is drawing a direct parallel between Mary, the Mother of God, and the Ark of the Covenant using a convenient literary device that would have almost certainly been obvious to his intended audience.

Luke provides us with a vision of Mary with clarity unprecedented within the entire New Testament. By linking Mary early in his Gospel with the Ark of the Covenant, Luke does not shy away from the gravity of importance imparted upon the story he about to tell. Again, as a literary genius, and man with a critical scientific eye, Luke systematically builds a case for Jesus as the Messiah and he begins his opening remarks with a powerful reach into the Holy Scriptures of Israel to establish the foundation and makes obvious that Mary is in fact the New Ark of the New Covenant.

The Gospel according to Saint Luke

Luke (Greek: Loukan) was a physician and companion of the Apostle Paul. Early Church Fathers such as Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria assert Luke’s authorship of the third Gospel book account of Jesus Christ. There is very little reason to doubt Luke’s authorship of this Gospel. In addition to writing the Gospel, Luke is ascribed authorship of the Acts of the Apostles and together these books make up what scholars refer to as Luke-Acts; a two part account of the life of Christ and the founding of His Holy Church. Together the two books comprise over one quarter of the entire New Testament, making Luke the largest single contributor to the NT. Luke opens his Gospel by telling the person he has dedicated the writings to, that he wishes to provide an “orderly account” (1:3) of the life of Jesus, and that is just what we get with this Gospel.

Traditionally, through Luke’s writings and what little is known about his life, scholars have described him as being a Gentile akin to Paul but in recent times he has been theorized as being a Hellenistic Jew, which would have separated him from his Temple ordinance following brethren in the apostles of Christ. Regardless of his ethnic background, Luke presents an exacting account of the life of Christ which is beautifully structured and which he claims to have “followed all things closely” that the reader “may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” (1:3)

Date

There is no scholarly consensus on when Luke’s Gospel was composed. The dates among scholars range from 60-80 AD but for many reasons it appears the earlier date range would be more appropriate. This is not so much because of what Luke says in his Gospel and Acts but what he doesn’t mention– his silence on certain issues speaks louder than his words. For example,

  • Acts ends abruptly after Paul is in prison around 62 AD, but does not speak of his trial or his subsequent martyrdom.
  • Luke writes in Acts to Christianity’s relationship with Rome, he does not mention the well documented Roman persecutions which started in mid-60 AD.
  • And in neither the Gospel or the Acts of the Apostles is there mention of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD.

These are a strong indication that Luke’s Gospel and the Book of Acts were written in the early 60s AD, before any of these events had happened.

Audience

Luke addressed his Gospel and subsequent Acts of the Apostles to Theophilus who was possibly a Roman official who agreed to finance the works. The name means friend of God or more closely beloved by God or loving God. In that sense, it is also possible that Theophilus is not a single person and may be a group of early Christians involved in funding the works, or Luke could be addressing a wider audience of Christians. At any rate, there is no doubt that Luke intended for his Gospel and Acts to be read beyond the patronage of Theophilus and it did spread into the wider Mediterranean world with particular impact among Gentile Christians. Luke often removes Semitic words or outright replaces them with their Greek equivalent and the entire Greek text is written in a form and style of Greek that alludes to his higher education and formation in Greek culture. It is also clear in the literary devices employed by Luke, that he assumes his reader will have a clear and ready understanding of the Scriptures of Israel. In this sense, reading the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles is much like watching a television show with many references to popular culture and outside stories/jokes that requires the viewer to know and understand these tropes and jokes in order to fully appreciate the richness of the show and the writing.

Structure

Luke’s Gospel is logically arranged. Generally, the Gospel follows the similar storyline as Matthew and Mark. He opens with a traditional prologue and then with the Infancy Narrative, followed by Jesus’ preparations for Ministry, and then His Galilean Ministry into the Journey to Jerusalem, the Passion Week Narratives including the crucifixion and finally ending with the Resurrection and Ascension.

Themes

Luke has three major themes through his Gospel:

  • The Salvation of Israel. Luke anchors his Gospel in the tradition of Israel and mimics the founding of the nation of Israel during the entire Infancy Narrative of Christ. He thus clearly identifies Jesus as the Messiah who comes in the line of David to reunite the scattered tribes of Israel by gathering them into his Kingdom.
  • The Salvation of the Nations. The forgiveness that Jesus offers to the people of Israel is extended to the Gentiles as well according to Luke, and early in his Gospel we hear Simeon calling Jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” (2:32). John the Baptist, channeling Isaiah, says that “all flesh” can now look to Christ for salvation (3:6). And Jesus tells his apostles that salvation must be carried “to all nations” (24:27).
  • The Salvation of the Lowly. Luke emphasizes a number of statements made by Jesus concerning outcasts, the poor and disreputable among us. Women in particular are showcased throughout Luke’s Gospel despite their relative low social standing in that time period.

In addition to his three themes, Luke brings the curious eye of a scientific man to his Gospel account. While there was certainly no such thing as the scientific method at this time, there was a methodology of study that Luke would have undoubtedly been exposed to as a Greek pupil. Of all of the Gospel writers, Luke presents the most “western” account of Jesus’ life, ministry and early church because he writes in the style and authority of a learned professional with a critical eye. His descriptions of the sick and elderly through out his entire account reveal his medical acumen and curiosity. And his literary style is robust and clear in a manner that allows any reader to come back time and time again to his Gospel and Acts to dive ever more deeper into the alliterations, allegories and beautiful rhetorical devices employed throughout these stalwart Biblical books. Both the substance and the style of the Gospel according to Saint Luke come together to articulate the sole purpose of the document giving us an “orderly account” of the life of Christ, His ministry and His conquering of sin and death.

The Incarnation

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

This is the foundational line from the Gospels that articulate in a sort of mystic way the Incarnation of Jesus as both God and child. There is a story of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew (and virtually no mention of the story in the Gospel of Mark) but I think that this line from John is perfect. It is simple and yet terribly complex; which is a spot on summation of a foundational event in Christianity. Indeed, what separates Christianity from every world religion is found within the Incarnation; a God who comes down and becomes fully human while remaining fully God.

In the original Greek versions of the Gospel, John writes ‘the Word’ as Logos, which is a very important idea worth exploring some more as we speak of the Incarnation. The Logos was almost purely a Greek concept that was imported into various sects within worlds that were influenced by the Greeks (at that time the Greeks were like the United States when it came to culture and arts). It can literally be translated into English as the Word, which works well because such a label is illusive and broad, just the same as that of the Logos. The early catholic church was without question influenced by Greek culture and society. One of its biggest salesmen was Paul who was a hellenistic Jew that spoke and wrote in Greek. And rounding the early first century within the early church we see leaders like Justin Martyr and Cyril of Alexandria link the Logos to that of the Greek understanding of the concept; a seed-bearing Logos that would spread ideas of itself around humanity and then having that Logo dwell in humanity in the form of Jesus the man and Christ the Lord. Cyril of Alexandria himself would go further and add that the coming of Jesus through the Incarnation occurred in order that the Logos may be united to defiled human flesh thus making all humanity capable of sharing in His divinity. It is also interesting to note how early church fathers placed a clear distinction on Jesus as the Messiah (a purely Jewish concept) and Jesus as the Christ (a more hellenized concept). Despite the word itself being purely of Greek origins, it is likely that many gentile Greeks who would have been preached to about Jesus Christ would have assumed it was a familia nom as opposed to a title that bequeathed universal glory. But it was an intentional development by the church fathers which was undoubtably influenced by the Holy Spirit.

Saint Augustine writes that, “He whom the world could not contain was contained in a mother’s womb,” when remarking about the Incarnation. C.S. Lewis writes in a Grief Observed that “…the Incarnation leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.” I am rather fond of this aspect of the Incarnation. It is indeed a concept that could not have been reasonably conceived by humans. It is impossible that anyone would have proposed and organized an entire religion around the idea of a God who becomes the nasty and brutishness of their creation. It separates Christians from every other religion in the world. Jesus had spit like we have spit. The coming of the Word in the form of flesh gives us a focal point in the material world in which all of humanity (and creation for that matter) is limited to. It is as if God is one cloth hanging against a separate cloth and creation is another hanging against it. They are separated at first, but are now united by the needle and thread that is Jesus Christ, made of the same substance of the Father and of the Father in every way, the Word becomes flesh and becomes the mediated between God and man forever. An entire focal point for all of creation. He breathed as we breathe (and probably had bad breath from time to time). He bled like we bleed. And yet He was totally God. There were no changes made to the Word when it became flesh, it remained fully and completely the Word, in addition to being full and completely human. And we know that He was different because although He spit as we spit, His spit made the blind see. And although He breathed as we breathe, His breath brought dead men back to life. And although He bled as we bleed, His blood paid the ransom for all of humanity as a result of the Adam’s Fall. He was both fully human and fully man.

And what better sacrament to we have in the catholic church than that of the Holy Eucharist to articulate this concept for us. Every day the Incarnation is not just replayed or reenacted at the hands of the Priest, it literally happens again and again. Since it was instituted by the Word made flesh. The bread and wine brought to the altar become the body and blood of Jesus in the same was as the body and blood brought into Mary bore a child that was the power and glory of God. And just the same as the body of Christ tastes and feels like bread even after the miracle of transubstantiation takes place on the altar, the body of the Son of God was like that of a human. If I can digress a bit here, and be permitted to indulge in a silly analogy in order to better illustrate my point. Suppose one of the children who came rushing to Jesus licked His face or hand, indeed His face would have tasted salty as ours and His hands probably clammy and perhaps a little dirty as our at times do as well. The same is true of the bread and wine after it becomes the body and blood of Jesus. And yet the saltiness, clamminess and dirtiness of the flesh of Jesus certainly does not diminish His glory and the fact that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

In fact we can venture to say with certainty that there is no Eucharist without the Incarnation and vice versa. Not just for the obvious fact that the Incarnation was how the man of Jesus was conceived into this world, but because you cannot have the body and blood of Christ without the flesh and veins of a human being. For reasons we will never be able to comprehend (but in faith we hope some day will be revealed to us), we require the body and blood of Christ as Christians for spiritual and temporal nourishment as part of the physical Body of Christ here on earth. In order for this life giving substance to exist and to be present here, God needed to take the form of man and literally create the body and blood of Christ in order that it may be shared from generation to generation to nourish the entire Body of Christ while we labour and wait for His Second Coming. The Logos became flesh and blood so that we may share and nourish on it indefinitely until He returns in glory. What an amazing cyclical existence and surely one that contributes to the entire concept of Christianity and a truth “hanging together” as C.S. Lewis once remarked.

Much can be said about the Incarnation of our Lord. It is after all the defining characteristic of the whole of the Christian faith. Along with the Holy Eucharist, the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ, we can look upon the Incarnation as linked faithfully to the Eucharist. Together they represent the two stable and everlasting bookends that is the Christian faith.

Two Liturgies; One Mass

Undoubtedly most of our readers here are aware of the basic parts of the catholic mass we participate in each Sunday. However, most may not be aware of the fact that our Sunday Mass, although one liturgy itself, is actually made up of two main parts.

The first part of mass is called the Liturgy of the Word. During this portion of the liturgy there are one or two readings (always two on Sunday) given with a psalm sung or recited. The high point of the Liturgy of the Word is the Gospel reading which is presented with the Gospel acclamation followed by a gradual hymn. In many high churches, the Gospel is read from among the people with candle light illuminating the text. The closing of the first portion of the mass is the prayers of the people which follow the homily and reciting of the Creed.

The second part of mass is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It begins with the preparation of the altar and the presentation of the gifts. Once the gifts are blessed by the priest, they bring our attention toward the sacrifice that Christ made and our imminent imitation of His institution. The bread and wine offered become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and are offered in communion with the faithful. This portion of the liturgy is called the Communion Rite. The final liturgy portion ends with the Concluding Rite.

The opening of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is particularly important in the sacrifice of the mass. The gifts are brought forward from among the people and the food which we have harvested and grown is given to God and turned into spiritual food that feeds our soul and our bodies in a way that no man could ever make with the material brought forward. That is the essence of the transformation at the altar, to become the food of the world through the physical gifts brought up to the altar by the people.

During the Liturgy of the Word the First Reading is taken from the Old Testament (including the Deuterocanonical Books) and the Second Reading is taken from the Epistles (more often than not Pauline). During Eastertide the First Reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles which carries forward the anticipation of the Resurrection of Christ. The Gospel Reading is given particular importance for the obvious fact that it contains the Words of Christ and His testament here in earth. But there is also a logistical reason for the weighty importance given to the Gospel being present at the mass. In the early church, just as our foundational liturgies were being developed, the Liturgy of the Word was part of the gathering as a direct Jewish import from Temple worship. However, not many gathering groups had access to the written accounts of Christ’s life, what would become the Gospels within the Bible— now the most published and widest available book in human history. But that wasn’t the case in the few hundred years after Christ left and the Gospels had been recorded. Often the travelling Apostles brought letters that were read, as did travelling Deacons and leaders from other churches in communication with the Bishops. And some had the Gospel texts, which is why when they were present it was a big deal. And still to this day remains a big deal within the liturgy.

The opening of mass is called Introductory Rites and during this portion faithful sing or recite the Kyrie which is one of the oldest prayers in Christianity. Also, in most liturgical seasons, the Gloria in excelsis Deo is sung.

Marks of the Catholic Church

  • What does it mean to be catholic?
  • What are the four marks of the catholic church?
  • Why are they important?

The catholic church defines professes itself to be the one true church founded by Jesus Christ. A church which exists not just here on earth in material form but also in the Heavens and is the connection between women and men here on earth and our celestial home among the angels and saints. The catholic church is said to be marked by four characteristics or more commonly called marks:

“This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” These four characteristics, inseparably linked with each other, indicate essential features of the Church and her mission. the Church does not possess them of herself; it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities. Catechism of the Catholic Church

The catholic church is singled out with four marks; one, holy, catholic and, apostolic.

The church is said to be one:

813 The Church is one because of her source: “the highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” The Church is one because of her founder: for “the Word made flesh, the prince of peace, reconciled all men to God by the cross, . . . restoring the unity of all in one people and one body.” The Church is one because of her “soul”: “It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church’s unity.” Catechism of the Catholic Church

The church is said to be holy:

823 “The Church . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.” The Church, then, is “the holy People of God,” and her members are called “saints.”

824 United with Christ, the Church is sanctified by him; through him and with him she becomes sanctifying. “All the activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, to the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God.” It is in the Church that “the fullness of the means of salvation” has been deposited. It is in her that “by the grace of God we acquire holiness.” Catechism of the Catholic Church

The church is said to be catholic:

831 …the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race:

All men are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God’s will may be fulfilled: he made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all his children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one…. the character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods, under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit. Catechism of the Catholic Church

And the church is said to be apostolic:

857 The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles, in three ways:
– she was and remains built on “the foundation of the Apostles,” The witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself;
– with the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching, The “good deposit,” the salutary words she has heard from the apostles;
– she continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles until Christ’s return, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, “assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Church’s supreme pastor”:

You are the eternal Shepherd

who never leaves his flock untended.

Through the apostles you watch over us and protect us always.

You made them shepherds of the flock

to share in the work of your Son…. Catechism of the Catholic Church

Anglo-Catholics claim to be part of the catholic church because they posses all of the same marks of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and other particular churches within the catholic fold. However, because members take particular issue with certain social and administrative teachings of the Roman church, and importantly to Roman Catholics, the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, Anglo-Catholics are not welcomed within the catholic fold by the Roman church. Be that as it may, an everlasting plank of Anglo-Catholicism and indeed the entire Church of England (even while under Roman approval) was a connection to the universal catholic church via apostolic succession, holiness, and oneness. A professing of the common creeds, adherence to common patristic councils and a common liturgy albeit in the English tongue had always been accepted traits of a catholic church in union.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it up pretty well in the final articles on the subject:

866 The Church is one: she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms only one Body, is given life by the one Spirit, for the sake of one hope (Eph 4:3-5), at whose fulfillment all divisions will be overcome.

867 The Church is holy: the Most Holy God is her author; Christ, her bridegroom, gave himself up to make her holy; the Spirit of holiness gives her life. Since she still includes sinners, she is “the sinless one made up of sinners.” Her holiness shines in the saints; in Mary she is already all-holy.

868 The Church is catholic: she proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is “missionary of her very nature”.

869 The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.

870 “The sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, . . . subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines”. Catechism of the Catholic Church

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Site Changes

There will be some changes to this blog coming up that include category changes, tags and overall look. There will also be some new content being rolled out shortly.

Be sure to check back!

Edit #1 (24 Jul): I’ve made changes to the category structure. There will be three themed routine posts made on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Occasional opinion pieces will be Editorials or Reflections and Reblogged items have their own category. Tags have also been grossly simplified.

Edit #2 (24 Jul): Many older posts will be reworked and republished in the upcoming days to conform to the new routine post method as well as the slight cosmetic changes to the site. I am entirely unsure whether or not the reposting will work, so be prepared for some minor issues potentially.

Edit #3 (26 Jul): I’ve changed the top bar menu around to reflect the new categories, moved the Vatican and Anglican Communion links to the Theological tab and added a new page called Book Recommendations.

New Death Penalty Teaching

The big news out of the Vatican today (not a phrase you see often), is that the Pope has approved a reworded portion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, specifically paragraph 2267 which will now read:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. (emphasis added)

This news is not entirely new because Pope Francis spoke last October about wanting to review the Church teachings on the death penalty and it was a topic during the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization that took place that same month. This English text is the fruitful effort of that council as well as the work of Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The new text was introduced with a letter from Cardinal Ladaria where he explains that this is not a new doctrine or a contradiction from previous teaching, but is a natural evolution of our understanding of the dignity of humans:

If, in fact the political and social situation of the past made the death penalty an acceptable means for the protection of the common good, today the increasing understanding that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes.

Personally, I have never supported the death penalty. I went to a Roman catholic school and I remember very clearly in grade 9 watching Dead Man Walking about Sister Helen Prejean and her work with Matthew Poncelet during his time on death row. I consider the greatest sin of a state to be the murder of innocent citizens, and the fact that we are incapable of knowing for fact the guilt of any person (even in seemingly clear cut murder cases) means that there is always a risk of the state murdering an innocent person and thus the death penalty is immoral. That is the logic that I am able to use to justify my position. And it is rooted in the dignity of the body, being a creation of God that we have no right to extinguish (even with seemingly good reason). I am therefore certainly not upset that the Pope and the church have taken this position on the death penalty, but my catholic spider senses are tingling here…Cardinal Ladaria is stretched to explain that this is not new doctrine, and he does it by saying that it is our secular understanding of the dignity of the body that has informed the church’s refined position on the matter. The problem with that thinking is that the source of the dignity of the body does not come from our secular understanding– no university professor or philosopher has articulated any powerful message as to why I should care about my brother– it comes from our understanding of our relationship with God and the fact that each and every one of us are created uniquely by God. We therefore all have certain rights and dignity that comes from that fact. This is the source of western human rights. We do not have rights because we are a collection of atoms, we have rights because we are creatures of God. Nothing new has been revealed recently about the dignity of the body. It is part of the Deposit of Faith and has been present since Christ’s Resurrection when the body was glorified. It is a core teaching of the faith that stretches back to the Jews in exile and their understanding of how the world was made– man being made in the image of God and all. So I am personally at a loss to understand where the good Cardinal is coming from when he asserts that this is not new doctrine.

And this is where I am going to depart from the Roman church. They were wrong, and have been wrong on the death penalty for a long time. Their understanding of the dignity of the body is sound, but they made the error long ago of caving to secular and temporal political opinions against the Will of God which was clear in the Deposit of Faith. We know why the church endorsed the death penalty, it had been done for centuries around the world and was being done within advanced western societies (hello United States of America) and the church was not willing to go down into a fight with the state about the issue. It was political and the Roman church failed her faithful in this teaching. And today they are continuing the sin because of their own pride, they cannot admit that they were wrong and are now making a course correction, instead we get a very smart Cardinal contorting himself into all sorts of wild positions in order to justify what is essentially a new or rather corrected doctrine because of the fact that the Roman church puts more emphasis on an appearance of never being wrong rather than just admitting it is not how the church works at all– it is not how the Body of Christ works at all. This is yet another example of Roman church leaders using weak logic to paper over a major sin of the church of the whole, the sin of pride believing that somehow they are incapable of impressing their own human sin and error onto the church that very much exists within the world and is influenced by the broken and sinful humans.

It is good news that the Roman church is finally teaching proper catholic doctrine as present in the Deposit of Faith concerning the death penalty. But it is a sad that they continue to try and fool the faithful in thinking they were not wrong to teach acceptance before, or that this is not a new or complete change in teaching on the subject. I suppose I can chalk up not being made to feel like a fool when Cardinals and the like try to sells these illogical lies to another reason why I am happy to have left the Roman church.

Authority of Rome: A Catholic Perspective

This post is the third and final instalment on a series concerning the authority of Rome and the infallibility/supremacy of the pope. We will explore the doctrine of papal infallibility from the lens of Christians who still call themselves catholic despite no longer being in official communion with Rome. For some, this is because they do not see Rome has holding the monopoly over what is and is not catholic. For others, this is because they believe that the Roman Catholic church has departed from true catholic teaching or “that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all” (Fr. Vincent of Lérins). This post will examine those positions specifically from the Old Catholic Church and the Anglican Catholic Church. For the purpose of this post Roman and catholic will be distinguished terms; it shall not be assumed when one reads catholic that this means Roman.

The only place to start when we discuss the position of non-Roman catholics on papal infallibility and supremacy is the First and Second Vatican Councils– more so the First Vatican Council. As we learned in the Roman perspective on the issue, the doctrine of papal infallibility/supremacy that we understand today is relatively a very new concept within the Roman Catholic Church having been defined clearly in the 1870s and then further refined in the 1960s. When speaking of papal authority within the church there is a definite pre- and post- Vatican Councils era that any honest observer should take into account when reflecting on a supposed catholic position on the doctrine itself. A period before the doctrine was defined where there today exists a dispute between Romans and catholics as to whether said authority was exercised without resistance (and hence not requiring definition) or was not exercised and hence didn’t require any resisting. And a period after the doctrine was defined when a portion of the Roman Catholic church broke away on the issue itself and many Roman catholics now attend Sunday services in Anglo-Catholic churches– and the established Roman Catholic church insists that the doctrine makes up a core component of the catholic faith requiring strict obedience.

There is no dispute that in the pre-Vatican I council period of the church there was no definitive (let’s say written down, at least) definition of the the doctrine of papal supremacy. Today, proponents of papal supremacy (the Roman Catholic church as a whole) maintain that the doctrine existed during this period but, as Cardinal Newman said, did not require defining because it was held to the evident by the church and her faithful. However, there is a segment of those who call themselves catholic (but not Roman), who would maintain that the doctrine was not defined because it did not exist and was never truly held to be evident by any single person. These faithful point to catholic textbooks and catechisms such as the one I quoted in the previous post that clearly stated there was no authority granted to the pope of that kind.

(Q.) Must not Catholics believe the Pope himself to be infallible?

(A.) This is a Protestant invention: it is no article of the Catholic faith: no decision of his can oblige under pain of heresy, unless it be received and enforced by the teaching body, that is by the bishops of the Church.

Another good example from history is that of the use of oaths of office, especially throughout England, Scotland, Whales and Ireland (and even into Quebec and Canada) because of the historical religious tension between catholics and protestants in those regions. In the early 1800s during the reign of the King George III, a catholic who wished to take public office in any form had to swear an oath that protected against a (now defined false, and therefore heretical) claim by popes that they could forgive regicide and directly guide state affairs through their office (what was in the pre-Vatican councils period, the fundamental question of papal supremacy, it was not about faith or morals at this point). Part of the oath stated, “it is not an article of the Catholic Faith, neither am I thereby required to believe or profess that the Pope is infallible.” And this was supported by the Irish bishops in 1826 when they stated in a pastoral letter to the faithful:

[t]he Catholics of Ireland not only do not believe, but they declare upon oath … that it is not an article of the Catholic faith, neither are they required to believe, that the Pope is infallible, and that they do not hold themselves ‘bound to obey any order in its own nature immoral’, though the Pope or any ecclesiastical power should issue or direct such an order; but, on the contrary, that it would be sinful in them to pay any respect or obedience thereto. (Pastoral letter, 25 January 1826)

Contrary to what the Roman church and her theological authorities continue to repeat, it does not appear that there was a clear definition or understanding of papal supremacy/infallibility in the early church, nor was there indications of a consensus among Bishops, clergy and faithful. This is the position of many catholics who fall outside of the Roman church. They do not see a legitimate claim that the doctrine of papal infallibility/supremacy has existed clearly through-out the history of the church– and some consider this to be new doctrine.

Along the same lines of there being no clear consensus on the authority of the pope through-out the bulk of the history of the Roman church, Old Catholics specifically charge the Roman church with the error of adding doctrine to the faith. This point was touched on in the post on the protestant position on Roman authority as well. The premise is that the whole collection of what has been revealed to mankind concerning God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as well as the mission and intention of the Church has been handed down in what is called the Deposit of Faith, this Deposit can be accessed by the church and she does regularly as a source of her teaching and preaching of the Good News around the whole world. However, she cannot add to this Deposit, because what has been revealed has been done by God and cannot be altered or added to by the church– not even the pope. And the Roman church does hold to this belief as well. It is without question a catholic doctrine which is professed in the Apostle’s Creed when we say that we believe in One Holy Catholic Church– meaning whole and complete as well as united and together. However, the Roman church does not consider the doctrine of papal infallibility– first defined in the 1870s and again in the 1960s– to be new doctrine because it is a fruit on the tree of faith which has grown over time– or, as Cardinal Newman pointed out, it has existed the whole time (which as we explored earlier, is not entirely conclusive). Old Catholics maintain that what has been taught within the faith throughout the ages and for all time was altered during the course of the First Vatican Council and then again during the Second Vatican Council. Admittedly, there has been some significant controversy within the Old Catholic movement (the “leader” who I quoted in the opening of this post never even associated himself directly with the break from the Roman church) and today the Old Catholic church permits the ordination of married male Priests.

The fallout of not adhering to the authority of Rome but still holding catholic value (or attempting to), is clear in the Anglican Catholic church of today. Members of this church often see themselves as catholic, and would even consider themselves as individuals to be in communion with Rome and still catholics despite the official position from Rome being that they are not in communion. They take issue with certain non-essential elements of the Roman faith which within the Roman church are taken very seriously. These are the trivial cultural practices that although very important, are often presented within the Roman church as being on an equal footing with tenant of the Creeds, for example. This is often because of the zero-sum-game that is created an organization is establish along the blind adherence to how a single man does something in a specific part of the world. Anything you do, regardless of where it falls along the hierarchy of importance within the faith, becomes taboo when it is not in line with what Rome does, it puts the actions and will of the pope on equal, if not very, very near footing with the Will of God for His Church. That is a problem to many Anglican Catholics who have left the Roman church as a result.

A summarizing sentence for the catholic position on papal infallibility/supremacy and the authority of Rome could be: it was never part of the catholic faith to profess the infallibility/supremacy of the pope, that is a new doctrine and it is an error of the Roman church to continue to teach it.

Authority of Rome: A Protestant Perspective

This post is the second installment of a series on papal supremacy/infallibility and the authority of Rome. The first installment on the authority of Rome from a Roman Catholic perspective can be found here. The series was the product of fruitful discussion on a post concerning the 185th anniversary of Anglo-Catholicism. Please feel free to comment on any post in the series, or offer your opinion on this callout post for ideas, theories and opinions on the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

Before we begin this post on the protestant perspective of papal authority, it is important to define the boundaries of protestant theology within the context of this post. Dissent among protestants regarding the pope and the Roman Catholic church in general range from opposition to a handful of doctrines to complete rejection of everything catholic all of the way to ascribing a heinous mission for the Roman church as the whore of Babylon spoken about in the Book of Revelations. Before I can begin a discussion outlining the various protestant positions, I would like to make it clear that we will not be concerning ourselves with outlandish, ill-founded and flat out unChristian ideas about the catholic church. This post will specifically focus on the theological positions of the Anglican Communion (disregarding the Anglican Catholic movement in this particular series for now), and Reformed Christian churches. Note that the position of the  Eastern Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches will not be covered in this series, those will be part of the third and final installment on the authority of Rome from a catholic perspective. If you want some information on extreme positions against the catholic church (if not for curiosity sake), I encourage you to check out Are You Drinking From The Babylon Cup who has a very respectful blog with a lot of information (even if I do not agree with his opinions at all).

Another important item to keep in mind when reading about the various protestant positions on the supremacy of the pope is that historically opposition to the pope did not fall along the lines of how we understand the doctrine today. Given that the formalization of the supremacy/infallibility of the pope was first defined in 1870 at the First Vatican Council and then further defined at the Second Vatican council during the 1960s, we have to remind ourselves when reading about bold statements of opposition to the pope from history, that those dissenters were not writing about the doctrine as defined today, in fact in most cases what they were historically opposing was concurred by the church during the First and Second Vatican councils (more on that below). In history, traditional opposition to the bishop of Rome, rested on his temporal ability to make or end monarchs through out Christian Europe, to forgive regicide and to control the public decisions of catholic secular leaders– all items which were defined by the First and Second Vatican councils as in fact falling outside of the authority of the bishop of Rome.

Protestants the world over generally disregard the doctrine of papal infallibility based on a few common points:

  1. The Roman church relies on a overly literal reading of Matthew 16:18 (when Jesus apparently called Peter the Rock upon which He will build His church). James Robert White points out that in the passage Peter is the second person “you” but that “this rock” (being in the third person), refers to Christ. Protestants read Matthew 16:18 as Christ telling Peter that He is the Rock and Peter (along with the other apostles) is laid upon it to build the church
  2. Protestants point out that this interpretation of Scripture was supported by Saint Augustine of Hippo when he wrote, “on this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed. I will build my Church. For the Rock (petra) is Christ; and on this foundation was Peter himself built.” (On the Gospel of John Tractate 12435)
  3. Protestants understand “the keys” mentioned by Christ in Matthew 16:19 to be the Word of God which ties in with instructions given to Timothy by Saint Paul regarding the defense of the true gospel accounts by apostles
  4. Reading Luke 22:32 when Jesus prays for Peter’s faith to be returned and strengthened, Protestants assert that infallibility cannot possibility rest with Peter as that would make the prayers of Christ regarding his faith redundant and pointless
  5. Protestants maintain that Peter’s prominence in the Book of Acts is overplayed by Roman Catholics. A reading of Acts as a whole together with the epistles presents a division within the church between Peter and Paul over the admission of Gentiles. During the First Council of Jerusalem, Protestants agree that it appears Peter rose to make final judgement, but the debate leading up to the council played out between Peter and Paul in their letters. Many times Paul rebukes Peter for not accepting Gentiles into the Christian faith as Christ directed. Protestants assert that it is Paul who takes center stage during the Acts of the Apostles and any inclusion of Peter is done to justify Paul’s position of authority among the Christians (many times Paul appeals to how he has the same powers and Spirit as Peter despite not being a direct witness of the life of Jesus Christ)
  6. Protestants point out that no formal Jewish magisterium existed and yet the faith endured for over a thousand years before Christ, Protestants use this historical fact to point out that the Roman Catholic teaching is a new doctrine (more on ‘new doctrines’ will come in the third installment, in this argument Protestants are pulling from the catholic playbook, and it gets a little awkward because of that)
  7. Protestants sift through history and point out several occasions when popes have spoke heresy (as recognized by the Roman church herself today, see mention above about temporal authorities of the pope) and use this to refute the claim that the pope alone is infallible. Specifically, Protestants will ascribe little weight to a pope stepping in to avoid heresy on the grounds that heresy was avoided because the opinion of the pope prevailed, Protestants consider this to be a cyclical argument that is illogical and has absolutely no direct Scripture to back it up
  8. Protestants point out that the Roman claim that monarchical leadership by an infallible pope as being inevitable within the universal church (or the more secular argument that any large organization needs decisive and clear leadership) as being directly contrary to Scripture where the church hierarchy is explained in a more local manner with deacons, priests and bishops (Titus 1:5-7, see also Saint Ignatius of Antioch quote in previous series posts)
  9. Protestants argue that over the entire history of the church, papal infallibility/supremacy lacked universal or widespread acceptance in the Christian world (even within the Roman church herself) which supports the claim that there is a lack of scriptural and historical basis for the doctrine itself. This was the issue addressed by Cardinal Newman in his quote about doctrine not being defined until it has been violated, but a historical review of how the First Vatican Council came to discuss papal authority will reveal that it was on the suspicion by church authorities that Pope Pius IX had overstepped his own authority in unilaterally ruling in favour of the Franciscan view of the Immaculate Conception of Mary over the Dominican view within the church which makes Newman’s casual observation about the defining pre-existing doctrine a little rich, considering the subject was the potential violator in this instance

A simple statement to capture the Protestant position concerning the Roman doctrine of supremacy of the pope can be summed up thus: it is not supported in Scripture or the historical record. They claim that the Roman church relies on a overly literal reading of certain passages of the gospels in order to justify a position of leadership for Peter above the others. Furthermore, they assert that claims to papal supremacy have more to do with secular issues than any ecclesiastical ones (this is supported historically, in that no pope has ever had to exercise papal authority to keep bishops from erring against the Creeds, it has always been done when theological questions fell along potentially new doctrine development, for example asserting the Immaculate Conception of Mary).

Individual Protestant churches have articulated their position on papal authority via various statements of faith or articles of faith. Again, we have to keep in mind that more often than not however, these articles were composed well before 1870 and therefore are not direct objections to how we view the papacy today, but to the clear abuses of papal authority that even the Roman church acknowledges today (no reasonable catholic argues that the pope has the authority to make or break world leaders or demand that a catholic government official does something).

The Anglican Church articulates her position against papal authority in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (which according to Anglo-Catholics contains nothing which is contrary to true catholic teaching):

XIX. Of the Church. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

XXI. Of the Authority of General Councils. General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.

Note how the Anglican Church acknowledges that councils and the faithful are subject to err and that they have erred in the past but that the metric for determining the error was not a secular office, but the Word of God itself.

John Wesley amended the Anglican Articles of Faith for use by Methodists. The Methodist Articles of Faith are similar to the Thirty-Nine Articles but omit the lamenting about councils being in error in the past, or capable of error in general.

V. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation. The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation..

Reformed churches and Presbyterian churches reject papal infallibility outright. The Westminster Confession of Faith, which was meant to replace the Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith in 1646, outright call the pope the ‘anti-Christ’:

(Chapter one) IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

(Chapter one) X. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

(Chapter Twenty-Five) VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.

Evangelical and Pentecostal churches all reject the authority of the Pope. As does the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witness. These churches tend to oppose the pope along the same theological lines as the Methodists (going so far as to call the pope the anti-Christ and ascribe heinous intentions regarding its formation).

The next installment of our series will cover the authority of Rome from the catholic perspective. It will require the reader to divorce the concepts of Roman and catholic and to understand them as two separate things. We will cover the position of the Orthodox churches, the Old Catholics and the Anglican Catholic perspective. To get the brain working before that installment is released, I leave you with this article from the 1860 edition of Keenan’s Catechism which was widely in use across England, Scotland and Wales within Roman Catholic schools (it was approved for use after being found to contain no catholic doctrinal error):

(Q.) Must not Catholics believe the Pope himself to be infallible?

(A.) This is a Protestant invention: it is no article of the Catholic faith: no decision of his can oblige under pain of heresy, unless it be received and enforced by the teaching body, that is by the bishops of the Church.