Yes, Athanasius Had the Right

August 12, 2009

James Swan was good enough to give a different perspective on whether the Reformers had the right to reform the Catholic Church (it was reposted on free republic with some interesting comments). He compares the right of Athanasius, who fought against the majority holding Arian opinion (that Christ was not fully God), with the right of the Reformers who also fought against a majority. He asks, “Did Athanasius Have the Right?” and supposes that if you answer in the affirmative then must also do so for the Reformers, assuming that their situations were the same because they both argued from Scripture against a majority. However, their situations were not the same. My answer is yes, Athanasius had the right. No, the Reformers did not.

The major differences between the case of Athanasius against the Arians and the case of the Reformers against the Catholic Church are as follows: Athanasius was an archbishop, an authority holding position in the Catholic Church, whereas the Reformers were not. His beliefs were orthodox and he was faithful to the teachings of the fathers, and the Reformers were not. He argued with an orthodox interpretation of the Scriptures, whereas the Reformers argued with new interpretations of the Scriptures, forsaking previous teachings and understanding.

Some people may object to my first reason, that Athanasius was an archbishop and so possessed “ordinary authority” to oppose the Arians, on the grounds that his opposition were also bishops, and there was also an Arian anti-pope installed in an attempt to force the Church into Arianism. However, the position of bishop is still that of authority, though some obtained it illegitimately and abused it. So how is a lay-person on the ground to know who to follow and who is right when leaders disagree? The next point is a good place to start:

Athanasius was orthodox in his beliefs and understanding, conforming to established doctrine. He believed that Christ was begotten not made, in one being with the Father, as had been professed and taught by the Apostles and their successors, and codified in the Nicene Creed. James Swan quotes James White’s article in which he states Athanasius went against the “established church”, but this is backwards. Athanasius conformed to the established church, and the Arians presented new doctrines to overturn established doctrine, though they at times may have outnumbered orthodox believers. The established church is not the same as the majority of the church. The orthodoxy of Athanasius’s beliefs were openly acknowledged by his opponents. In his History of the Arians, he writes about the Arians:

“[T]hey were not ashamed to say in their letters, ‘since Athanasius suffered, all jealousy has ceased, and let us henceforward receive Arius and his fellows;’ adding, in order to frighten their hearers, ‘because the Emperor has commanded it.’ Moreover, they were not ashamed to add, ‘for these men profess orthodox opinions;'”

In his Four Discourses Against the Arians, Athanasius disparages the Arian unorthodoxy as grounds in itself to dismiss their beliefs as heresy:

“But if they themselves own that they have heard it now for the first time, how can they deny that this heresy is foreign, and not from our fathers? But what is not from our fathers, but has come to light in this day, how can it be but that of which the blessed Paul has foretold, that ‘in the latter times some shall depart from the sound faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, in the hypocrisy of liars; cauterized in their own conscience, and turning from the truth?'”

“Or how are they of the Catholic Church, who have shaken off the Apostolical faith, and become authors of fresh evils?”

It’s similar to what Tertullian says of heresies in relation to orthodoxy:

“[H]ow comes it to pass that the things of God were on their course before it was known to what God they belonged? That there were Christians before Christ was found? That there were heresies before true doctrine? Not so; for in all cases truth precedes its copy, the likeness succeeds the reality.”

The Reformers, unlike Athanasius, presented a gospel different than that taught by the Catholic Church, one that was news to the people of the day. They went against the established doctrine and so against orthodoxy. This demands much greater proof that they speak the truth. They must prove that God has sent them to change the gospel and reform His Church, a Church that He promised would not perish and paid for in His precious blood, sustained and guided by the Holy Spirit. How is such an extraordinary mission to be proved? Through miracles alone. It is not enough that they twist the bare letters of the Bible to fit their own meanings.

James Swan seems to think Scriptural support of their argument was sufficient for people to accept the authenticity of Athanasius (although I have already shown he has more to recommend him), and is also sufficient for us to accept the truth of the Reformed gospel. The Holy Scriptures are authoritative, yet sometimes both sides claim to derive their solution from Scriptures. Such was the case of Arianism. Athanasius bemoans the twisting of Scriptures that heretics use to “prove” Arianism, and in his discourses he painstakingly sets straight the orthodox interpretation of passages that had been misinterpreted by Arians. In other words, he is relying on the interpretation of Scriptures taught by the fathers of the Church since the Apostles. This is the much misunderstood importance of Tradition. It ultimately questions whether the gospel presented is the one preached from the beginning (1 John 2:24), despite supporting evidence that heretics and schismatics invariably give from the blessed and authoritative Scriptures.

Here are a few examples of Athanasius propounding the orthodox interpretation of Scriptures, and lamenting the twisting of Scriptures common to heretics:

“If then the use of certain phrases of divine Scripture changes, in their opinion, the blasphemy of the Thalia into reverent language, of course they ought also to deny Christ with the present Jews, when they see how they study the Law and the Prophets; perhaps too they will deny the Law and the Prophets like Manichees , because the latter read some portions of the Gospels. If such bewilderment and empty speaking be from ignorance, Scripture will teach them, that the devil, the author of heresies, because of the ill savour which attaches to evil, borrows Scripture language, as a cloak wherewith to sow the ground with his own poison also, and to seduce the simple.”

“And yet, needless though it be to refine upon these passages, considering their so clear and religious sense, and our own orthodox belief, yet that their irreligion may be shown here also, come let us shortly, as we have received from the fathers, expose their heterodoxy from the passage.”

“But since they allege the divine oracles and force on them a misinterpretation, according to their private sense , it becomes necessary to meet them just so far as to vindicate these passages, and to show that they bear an orthodox sense, and that our opponents are in error.”

In their works against heresies, Tertullian and Irenaeus also speak of the twisting of Scripture, showing by their testimony that it’s a trait common to heretics. Like Athanasius, they advise individuals to discern the true understanding of Scripture using the Catholic understanding of it, because that is consistent with the Apostolic Faith.

In Tertullian’s Perscription Against Heretics, he shows that orthodox Apostolic doctrine is the only true doctrine, and with it the only true understanding of Scripture, since heretics will always insist their interpretations are right:

“Truth is just as much opposed by an adulteration of [Scripture’s] meaning as it is by a corruption of its text… They rely on those [passages] which they have falsely put together, and which they have selected, because of their ambiguity…

It is indeed a necessary consequence that they should go so far as to say that adulterations of the Scriptures, and false expositions thereof, are rather introduced by ourselves, inasmuch as they, no less than we maintain that truth is on their side…

Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures;… (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians? For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions

From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for no man knows the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him. Matthew 11:27 Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles… If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches— those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth.”

Irenaeus, in his Against Heresies, like Tertullian and Athanasius, describes the adaptation of Scriptures to the heretic’s own ends, and the importance of adhering to the the truth of Apostolic churches and their correct understanding of Scripture to resist such falsehoods:

“[T]hey maintain that these are great, and wonderful, and hitherto unspeakable mysteries which it is their special function to develop; and so they proceed when they find anything in the multitude of things contained in the Scriptures which they can adopt and accommodate to their baseless speculations.” [Book 1, Chapter 1]

“And others of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a steadfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” [Book 1, Chapter 3]

“When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures… For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world. 1 Corinthians 2:6 And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth…

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth… It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.” [Book 3, Chapter 2]

“Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth. And the heretics, indeed, who bring strange fire to the altar of God— namely, strange doctrines— shall be burned up by the fire from heaven, as were Nadab and Abiud. Leviticus 10:1-2 But such as rise up in opposition to the truth, and exhort others against the Church of God, [shall] remain among those in hell (apud inferos), being swallowed up by an earthquake, even as those who were with Chore, Dathan, and Abiron. Numbers 16:33 But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, [shall] receive from God the same punishment as Jeroboam did. 1 Kings 14:10

Such presbyters does the Church nourish… Of whom also did the Lord declare, Who then shall be a faithful steward (actor), good and wise, whom the Lord sets over His household, to give them their meat in due season?… Matthew 24:45-46 Paul then, teaching us where one may find such, says, God has placed in the Church, first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers. 1 Corinthians 12:28 Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behooves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles… For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things;… and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.” [Book 4, Chapter 26]

“He shall also judge those who give rise to schisms… For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism. He shall also judge all those who are beyond the pale of the truth, that is, who are outside the Church;…

True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy…” [Book 4, Chapter 33]

The idea that Athanasius was some kind of proto-Protestant, much like the idea that other Church Fathers are proto-Protestants, probably comes from his extensive use of the Scriptures. Yet we also see he is concerned with the teachings of the fathers and with orthodoxy. Sometimes these men often failed to use traditions and orthodoxy in their arguments against heretics and outsiders because heretics and outsiders do not value them. Which is why they were heretics. The Fathers could still use Scripture in their arguments, because many heretics still hold the Scriptures as authoritative. The Fathers often lamented their inability to use tradition, as seen by James White’s quote of Augustine “I must not press the authority of Nicea against you, nor you that of Ariminum against me; I do not acknowledge the one, as you do not the other; but let us come to ground that is common to both- the testimony of the Holy Scriptures.”. It does not mean they held no regard for traditions, just that they were often unable to use them against people with wonky ideas and those who despise authority (2 Peter 2:10). In this particular quote, the council of Ariminum was set up to overthrow Nicea, the established doctrine, and Ariminum was not approved by any valid pope and the decrees were annulled by Pope Liberius after he returned to his see, so of course Augustine wouldn’t recognize it’s authority. The fact the Arians felt the need to hold a council in order to impose their beliefs shows that councils were indeed important and the bishops held authority in determining doctrine.

There is one difference between Athanasius’s time and the Reformers time that some people might think justifies a reform against orthodoxy. At the Reformation, those on the side of orthodoxy had become corrupt and irreligious men, abusing their position, which led to a widespread devaluation of the Church heirarchy. In my initial post, I have already answered that this is not a sufficient excuse for Christians not to follow those God has placed in authority over them. We are called to discern truth using the foremost three rules of Faith – the Holy Scriptures, teachings of the fathers (Tradition), and the authorities of the Church (Magesterium) – but not to overturn all three rules in favor of our own perceived truth.

Is it too hard a thing to ask that we trust in God, though all men be false (Rom 3:3-4), and by trusting in Him believe He will guide His Church in all truth (John 16:13), that it is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim 3:15), that the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18)? But who thinks that God has abandoned His visible Church so that His flock scatter dangerously without seeing or knowing their Earthly shepherd, when God is most able to gather and lead them? If you say He is unwilling, you say He is not Love or Truth. He has preserved His Church, a much lesser thing than when He created it by the power of the cross. Who says He has let it fall denies the power of the cross. Who says a mere sinful man can destroy what God preserves doesn’t know the power of God.

Athanasius had the right to oppose Arianism, because he held ordinary authority in the Church as an archbishop, he retained the Faith given him by the fathers, and he used the orthodox understanding of the Holy Scriptures to show Christ revealed as both fully God and fully man. He had the three highest rules of Faith on his side: the Scriptures, Tradition, and the Magesterium. The Reformers fail on all three points. They did not hold an office worthy of their impertinence, they did not retain the faith given to them and instead overturned it, and they used new interpretations of the Holy Scriptures to form their arguments and beliefs. Their faith was a new invention, like Athanasius says, it was not given by the fathers, so is it not obviously a foreign heresy?

Did the Reformers Have Any Right?

August 5, 2009

Lately, I’ve been reading St. Francis de Sales’ defense of the Catholic Faith, The Catholic Controversy. I haven’t read the whole thing, but so far, I think it’s the best defense of the Faith ever given. Chris, who’s been reading it recently as well, agrees. Almost all modern Catholic apologetics repeat his reasonings, but without putting things quite as clearly as St. Francis does. It’s almost as if modern apologists have given ground and decided to only defend attacks from opposing apologists, arguing on their opponents’ terms and giving defense only from verses, instead of using reason to state their own case un-apologetically. St. Francis, however, uses reason as a guide and faith as a basis to point out the errors of the Reformation and the truth of the Catholic Faith. Of course, he uses the Bible abundantly, but to show Catholic traditions as the only ones consistent with Biblical Faith, not strictly deriving Catholic beliefs from passages. I’d like to see more of that these days.

One of the cases St. Francis makes against the Reformation is something that has been on my mind quite a lot lately. I’ve been wondering what right the Reformers had to do what they did. This line of thinking would never have occurred to me years ago, in my Protestant mind. In fact, I had many arguments with Chris where I flatly denied any worth of appeal to tradition, or history, or the validity of any beginnings of the Reformation. I adamantly insisted that the only thing that really mattered was whether or not the Reformers were right to leave the Church and reject the authority of the Pope, not whether they had the right. I steadfastly held to the idea that truth was a rare commodity, held by a few faithful, sought and not found for 1500 years. I thought my insistence that everyone throughout history could have been wrong was akin to believing truth was something that couldn’t be claimed by a majority. But now I believe there are earmarks on the truth, ways to recognize it, not by a majority like I thought Catholics were trying to do, but by the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary authorities that God has placed over us.

Chris eventually gave up even mentioning history, but obviously I somehow changed my mind. I think knowing more history changed my mind. Reading the Church Fathers and both Protestant and Catholic histories of the Reformation opened my eyes. I found out that I never really knew how things happened or why, I only had a vague outline of events in my mind, usually tainted by the agenda of the historian telling the tale. (Side note: read primary sources! You’ll find out whether Augustine believed in the Real Presence when you read his works.) It is important to know where ideas come from and with what authority people promote them. Recognizing God’s authority behind things is a vital way to recognize His truth. It’s not enough to say something with its truth recommended only by your repeated insistence: “I’m right!” More and more, it seems to me that’s the only thing the Reformers really had, insisting they were right where the Catholic authorities were wrong, leaving everyone else to decide for themselves if they agreed. And by what authority were the Reformers saying these things?

The Bible often commands us to submit to authorities (Rom 13:1, 1 Pet 2:13). Luther insisted this was only meant for secular authorities, but there are other verses that seem to be talking about Church authorities (Heb 13:17, 2 Pet 2:10) and verses where Jesus specifically mentions obeying those in authority over God’s people, those in the seat of Moses (Matt 23:1-3). Biblically, obeying authorities does extend to religious authorities, and it would seem Luther said it didn’t because that was the only interpretation he could make consistent with his personal desires, beliefs and actions. Since there are religious authorities we need to obey, we need to learn to recognize both ordinary religious authorities (priests and rabbis commissioned in the ordinary way of laying on of hands by those already in authority) and extraordinary religious authorities (like Moses, specifically commissioned by God Himself).

St. Francis makes clear arguments that the Reformers had neither ordinary nor extraordinary authority to do what they did. He calls this right a “mission” that Reformers could have obtained either from earthly authorities or directly from God. He denies the right of secular authorities to commission a religious mission, which I think none of us will argue with. He says it’s rather ridiculous for the Reformers to claim any ordinary authority on the basis of their priesthood, since they operate in disobedience to their bishops and have rejected the Catholic Church anyway. So the Reformers are left trying to claim an extraordinary mission that comes directly from God. Now here’s the interesting part:

Throughout the Bible, there are stories of men on a mission from God. Consider Moses. God speaks to Moses and sends him on a mission, and before even asking for the ability to speak that mission clearly, Moses requests “patents” proving that God has sent him. God sees this as good and gives Moses three different miracles to attest his authenticity. Miracles have always been proof that someone is sent by God. If anyone who has walked the Earth should be excused from this proof of authority, this patent of authenticity that they are sent from God, it would have been Jesus Christ Himself. Yet, even Christ said that if he had not performed miracles, the people would have been right not to believe in Him. He was accredited by God through His miracles (Acts 2:22).

The Reformers had no miracles, so they had no mission from God. In fact even if they did have miracles, those on extraordinary mission do not overthrow ordinary authorities, they fulfill and uphold them. They had no legitimate reason to overthrow the ordinary authorities because Catholic beliefs do not contradict the Bible, they are consistent with the Bible, just not the Reformer’s interpretation of it which they had no authority to promote. Using Biblical standards, it’s rather obvious that the Reformers were not sent by God.

It’s baffling, really, how men could have just decided that sola scriptura is the only rule of Faith, then based on that alone overturn 1500 years of traditions that did not contradict the Bible. Was it really Biblically necessary to cut the number of sacraments from seven to two? Of course not. But sola scriptura gave Reformers carte blanche to interpret everything themselves and start from scratch. Beliefs and practices began to boil down to the personal insistence “I’m right!” in their interpretation of the Bible, without consulting traditions or authorities. History meant nothing anymore, and perhaps that’s why you never hear modern apologists talk about whether the Reformers had the right to do what they did. There’s a disconnect with and almost an impertinent disdain for history in the world today.

Today, Protestants defend the Reformation principle of sola scriptura and reject any ultimate Earthly religious authorities by saying men are fallen, fallible, corrupt creatures. The Catholics steadfastly maintain that the faithlessness of man does not diminish the faithfulness of God, so the corruption of anyone anointed by God can’t negate their anointing. Judas was still an Apostle despite his undoubted reprobate status. He still did miracles in Christ’s name and was sent out as one of the twelve. David was still God’s chosen king despite his treachery concerning Bathsheba. God’s anointing remains, despite our sins. The corruption of men does not negate the status of Christ’s Church as His Spouse, nor does their fallibility equate with the fallibility of the Church as a whole, since we have Christ’s promise against its demise. The Protestant reasoning behind sola scriptura sounds to me like invented justification to follow our own judgment, driven by fear of corrupt men and lack of trust in God’s ability to lead His Church, even though the Bible commands us to obey authorities regardless of their quality. Ironically, when warned against men who will lead us astray from the gospel, it is those who despise authority we need to be wary of (2 Peter 2:10).

If anyone accuses me of trusting in potentially corrupt men, I must answer that the man I trust is Christ, and I believe His promise of faithfulness to His Church, believe that only men chosen by God are placed in authority, especially in His Church, and that as well as having His Word faithfully conveyed in the Bible, He is capable of having the Faith conveyed by His visible Bride. (St. Francis has some things to say on the visibility of the Church as well. Great book. You oughta read it.) There is no reason for me to believe that Christ has abandoned His Bride to the AntiChrist or demolished His Church. There is no man that has come along with a new mission since Christ and the Apostles. The Reformers had no right, and I can’t consider any of their proposed beliefs knowing that the men themselves were not sent by God. If I’m Christian, I’m Catholic.


James Swan wrote Did Athanasius Have Any Right? in response to this post. I have heard many Protestant defenders say that Athanasius and the Reformers were doing the same thing and if you accept one you must accept the other. I wrote Yes, Athanasius Had the Right to show the difference between them.

The Mystery of the Resurrection

May 21, 2009

Alright, maybe I can’t get babies and a puppy under control enough to blog more often right now! But that’s okay… right? So, the mystery of the Resurrection:

Right now, I’m not really talking about Christ’s resurrection, but the resurrection of the saints. It’s a strange thing. I remember in my Protestant days there wasn’t a heck of a lot of talk about our physical resurrection. We more heard about heaven and worshiping in the presence of God, clouds and music, that sort of thing. I don’t know if I remember it this way because of my muddled and childish view of things or if Protestants really ignore the physical resurrection as some kind of side-note in the Bible. In my adult days, I can’t remember any “hope of the resurrection” sermons. But I remember being afraid of heaven when I was little. Weird reaction to people’s attempted description of paradise, I know. But I thought everyone’s formless spirits all lined up singing, which was my child-like view of worship, sounded boring. Now I realize there is a lot more to worship than just singing. To love our God, in His perfection, is to worship Him. That relationship with God, to perfectly know and be known, will fulfill the godly nature of our Earthly desires. Nothing bad about that.

Heaven is one thing I can accept now, but what about our physical bodies, raised from the dead, like Lazarus, glorified like Christ’s? Now that’s something else entirely. I feel like there’s some deep truth hidden behind the resurrection, and the Eucharist, and Christ’s words “It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” It’s out of my grasp, but I can feel it, a mystery in the hope of Christians. Why is that our hope? Why isn’t heaven our final goal?

And why don’t Protestants talk about it that much, and instead focus on going to heaven? After reading the wiki-page on the resurrection of the dead, and the section on the modern “de-emphasis”, I’ve decided I’m not crazy! Since the 17th century, Protestants have focused more on souls going to heaven instead of the hope of the resurrection. The author of the wiki-page offers some suggestions as to the cause:

  • Interviewed by Time in 2008 senior Anglican bishop and theologian N.T. Wright spoke of “the idea of bodily resurrection that people deny when they talk about their ‘souls going to Heaven,'” adding: “I’ve often heard people say, ‘I’m going to heaven soon, and I won’t need this stupid body there, thank goodness.’ That’s a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.”
  • Early church fathers defended the resurrection of the dead against the pagan belief that the immortal soul went to heaven immediately after death.
  • Dartigues has observed that especially “from the 17th to the 19th century, the language of popular piety no longer evoked the resurrection of the soul but everlasting life.

Some time ago, I read Augustine’s homily on John 6, where Christ says “It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” He compares these words to the words in 1 Corinthians 8:1 “Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies.” Augustine points out that this doesn’t mean knowledge is useless, but that without love it is useless. Likewise, he says, when Christ says “It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” He doesn’t mean that flesh never profits, but that without the spirit, flesh profits nothing. Augustine explains this is how we must understand Christ to understand Him consistently after He has just commanded us to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, and that we have no life in us unless we do. Seems rather obvious when he puts it like that, now, doesn’t it?

There’s a connection between the physical world and the spiritual world, in which physical things are moved by the spirit. Yet we can’t abandon the physical for that which moves it. Our ultimate goal is to exist as we were first created, body and spirit together. After the resurrection, we’ll be as we were intended, our glorified bodies in unity with our Father. All we can conclude is that Augustine is right, and flesh profits. We see it in the Eucharist, as Christ’s Body and Blood give us life. And now we see it in the resurrection, our goal. Personally, I’m glad. I can’t fathom God’s understanding of these things, but I love the works of His hands. I love the stars, the ocean, the fields, and a breeze on my skin after it’s been warmed by the sun. I love eating a good food prepared by a good cook, and waking up from a good nights sleep (though that’s a distant memory). Almost with some level of absurdity, I love Chris’s touch. It is the spirit that gives life, but I know at some level the physical moves the spiritual as well.

On Called to Communion, Brian Cross writes: “The interior is more important than the exterior. But, (and here is what so many people miss, and what gnostic Christianity misses entirely) the bodily and the external is what incites our affections to submit to God. The exterior moves the interior. Why? Precisely because we are humans, and not angels trapped in bodies. This is why it is connatural to us, says Aquinas, to proceed from the sensible (i.e. the physical, external, material) to the intelligible (i.e. the internal, the spiritual).”

This is exactly the train of thought that I’ve been on. The resurrection is pointless unless the physical matters, and gnostic Christianity, popular Protestantism, the evangelical traditions that have been thoughtlessly handed down to us, miss it entirely! They miss it in the sacraments, too, not realizing that God uses material things to move the spiritual. The spirit gives the flesh life, so the flesh profits! They miss it in worship, in reverence, in anything sacred itself. I posted before that I believe the Reformation destroyed the sacred, and this must be why. It’s a confusing turn in theology in which Protestants look solely to the spiritual realm, to the interior, for benefits. This must be why Protestants have all but abandoned the resurrection as well sacraments, sacrifice, and all things sacred. Basically any words beginning with “sacr”.

The dual nature of humanity is new to me. At least the importance and inextricable qualities of it are new to me. And as always, light is shed on issues I never expected with this new understanding. All these thoughts tumbling around my insufficient brain, and I keep hearing these words ringing in my ears: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

Interesting links:

Google book on the creed

Catholic view of the resurrection

John Calvin, in accord with the Church Fathers?

April 2, 2009

A couple weeks ago, I picked up Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Volume I and began to read it again. I only read through the introduction and was stopped by an account of John Calvin claiming that his beliefs are in accord with the Church Fathers more than Catholic dogma during the discourses on the Lausanne Articles. Since reading Volume III of the Holy Scripture trilogy, I’ve been looking up references to the Church Fathers and making my way through their works on New Advent and CCEL. Naturally, I began to investigate these claims by Calvin. If there is any substance to claiming the Church Fathers as “non-Catholic”, then Calvin surely knew it then and pointed it out.

Yet, in this discourse, Calvin claims more than the non-Catholic nature of the Fathers, he claims that they believed as he did, particularly with regards to the Eucharist. He gave nine references, eight put forward to show the Fathers believed the presence of Christ in the Eucharist to be merely symbolic. Of these references that he claimed were “reached readily without using great subtlety in citing them”, I have been able to find one. I have ordered a book containing another, but received a different book of the same name, Augustine of Hippo: Selected Writings, and have ordered the book again. I will share more on that when it arrives and I have time to look it over. I don’t suggest that Calvin was intentionally using obscure references and calling them easy to reach, but that for some reason over the past 500 years these references have not been translated from the Latin, transferred to an electronic format, or copies sent to the local libraries. It’s frustrating, and I’m about to learn Latin and camp out in the Vatican archives to get to the bottom of this.

For some reason, I feel compelled to hunt down these references and explain them to my satisfaction. Or, if I happen to find astonishing evidence of the Church Father’s belief that Christ is not present, then abandon my Catholic journey altogether. I can’t expect to find the latter since for every Father quoted by Calvin, I have easy references at my fingertips that clearly show their position on the Eucharist. Either these great men changed their minds readily, or they have been misunderstood by those who did not want to understand them, or they held some position I can’t fathom that incorporates their quotes on the Real Presence.

I have listed the references that Calvin made below and will deal with each in separate posts as I investigate them further. If anyone has information with regards to these references, please share! Several use familiar language and ideas that can be easily found in other places, but the quotes themselves are out of my reach.

I) Calvin begins by referencing Cyprian, who “does not wish us to have any regard to what is said or what is done by those before us.” Calvin cites this as from letter 3 of book 2 of Cyprian’s letters. Unfortunately, the 82 epistles of Cyprian are no longer arranged into books and will take some time to go through. I have heard Cyprian quoted this way to prove him and the other Church Fathers to be “proto-Protestants”, but hadn’t looked up the context or found with regards to what he would have us ignore those who came before us. I know he was rather ferociously loyal to the Catholic Church to the extent of believing only Catholic baptisms are valid, and is credited with the first version of extra ecclesiam nulla salus. The hunt for this reference continues in searching his letters.

II) Calvin emphasizes Tertullian’s use of the word “figure” with respect to the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. I found this reference, which is in Tertullian’s Against Marcion, Book 4. I believe this quote is taken out of context. Even in the same paragraph, Tertullian speaks of the Body and Blood in a very real way. I also found a website with exhaustive explanation of this quote, including analysis from Protestant patristic scholars who agree Tertullian believes in some form of the Real Presence. I will put a separate post up to address this reference in depth.

III) Next, Calvin mentions the unfinished commentaries on Matthew, attributed to John Chrysostom. He marks the location in about the middle of the 11th homily. I read through the eleventh homily of John Chrysostom’s on the gospel of Matthew, and found nothing discussing the “greater offense in us to contaminate and pollute ourselves than to profane the vessels in which are administered the elements of the Last Supper.” Calvin says he word for word quotes the homily by saying, “while we are the true vessels which God inhabits, those contain not the true body of Jesus Christ, but only the mystery of his body.” I’ve googled as best I know how, and I have no idea where else to look for this reference.

IV) The rest of Calvin’s references are from Augustine, because of his opponents use of him. I find this interesting, because in many places Augustine is very explicit in explaining the Eucharist. His words can easily be misunderstood, since he draws fine lines and represents two sides of an issue, logically working through to determine the truth. I intend to devote a good deal of time discussing Augustine and his view of the Eucharist.

Moving on to Calvin’s reference: He cites Augustine’s 23rd letter. This letter deals with the sin of re-baptism, not the faith of children in baptism that Calvin mentions. He says Augustine calls faith in infants in baptism a kind of simile, like the Eucharist, and then says the bread and wine are called “in some sense” the body and blood of Christ. The Latin phrase used by Augustine is “quodammodo vocamus sacramenta”. I searched Augustine’s book on infant baptism and found nothing there as well, though I didn’t read the whole thing. Again, I’m at a loss as to where to go from here, maybe the letters have been renumbered.

V) Calvin’s next reference: In the middle of Augustine’s book, Against Adimantus the Manichee, he says the “blood is not substance but sign” in refuting Adimantus’s claim that Genesis Chapter 9 means the blood of an animal contains its soul. It seems this book has not been translated from the Latin.

VI) Calvin says under Psalm 98, Augustine interprets “adorate scabellum pedum eius quoniam sanctum est” to mean the Jews ate Christ’s body in the same manner the Christians do. Things get complicated when you’re trying to understand someone interpreting 500 years ago what someone else wrote 1700 years ago. Apparently the Psalms have been renumbered in such a way that our current Psalm 99 is the old Psalm 98. In Augustine’s Exposition on Psalm 99 at New Advent, he referred to all these verses as “98” instead. I believe “adorate scabellum pedum eius quoniam sanctum est” is “worship at His footstool; he is holy” from Psalm 99:5. Here Augustine does talk about the Echarist and expounds John 6 to show that to worship at God’s footstool is to worship His Earth, and by that he means to worship Christ’s flesh who became part of God’s creation. In both New Advent and CCEL, the section I think Calvin is referring to has been edited out. I have a book coming in the mail with excerpts from Augustine’s Expositions on the Psalms. We’ll see if it’s in there!

VII) Calvin next says that in a homily on the gospel of John, in the 8th or 9th section, Augustine talks about the resurrection in such a way to say Christ’s body cannot be on Earth. He says “while this age endures, it is necessary that the saviour be on high; but he has left his Word on earth by which he speaks to us. For it had to be that his body which ascended into heaven be in one place; but his truth is spread over all.” I’ve only read through thirteen of Augustine’s 124 tractates on the gospel of John. I haven’t found it yet. But this reference is unsurprising, and I have found other references that say close to the same thing. Augustine well explains himself on this subject in his homily on the Ascention. There is also a substantial amount worth reading through in his homily on John 6.

VIII) In Chapter 19 of the book De fide ad Petrum Diaconum, Calvin says Augustine speaks of the “representation of the body of Christ” in the Old Testament animal sacrifices and that the New Testament sacrifice of the Eucharist is an “act of thanksgiving and commemoration for the flesh of Christ.” I don’t know where to find this book and don’t know if it has been translated from Latin either.

IX) I have ordered a copy of Augustine of Hippo: Selected Writings, which contain his Letter 187, On the Presence of God written to Dardanum. Calvin mentions Augustine’s epistle “ad Dardanum” in which “he testifies clearly what he thinks.” In this letter, Calvin says Augustine writes, “Jesus Christ according to his divinity fills all, and is spread through heaven and earth… according to his humanity he is in heaven, not on earth.” This idea is echoed many times not only by Augustine but by the other Fathers, and is similar to Calvin’s seventh reference. Without reading the reference, I think reading Augustine’s other works on the Eucharist and the ascention explain well what he thinks. I think Augustine’s explanations deserve a detailed post. It’s on my list.

Of course, I expect to find the Church Fathers in absolute accord with Catholic teaching. All that I have read of them so far suggests this. If so, what does this mean for John Calvin? I know little about the man, and intend to learn more. Based off of this alone, I’m led to believe he either intentionally deceived people and manipulated the words of the Father’s to further his cause, or he was some kind of delusional and honestly believed these men supported his view, or most likely he thought himself into a corner. Perhaps he really believed the Church Fathers agreed with him, not out of intellectual honesty or delusion, but because he had to believe that in order to make it fit with his a priori assumption that he already posessed the gospel truth.

Some may ask if I’m doing the same thing, but in the opposing manner. Am I just finding Catholic Church Fathers because I already think they’re Catholic or because I want to find them so? The only way to avoid reading your own ideas into the works of these great men is to try your best to understand the works taken as a whole, in context of the time in which they were written. As I have attempted to do so, I find the Catholic position on many issues more clearly understood, because they have already delved into the particulars of understanding them. If something has seemed non-Catholic, it has been because either the Father is being misread, or because the Catholic position was not understood. I expect that will be what I continue to find. I’ll keep you updated.

Then who, Luther? You?

November 26, 2008

I’m currently reading “Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and his Career” and I’m about halfway through. Martin Luther has just had a debate with Johann Eck concerning Luther’s latest stance on papal authority (that the pope has no authority). During the debate Luther also came out saying that a council of the church doesn’t have authority either. He seems to have based this on them making decisions that are against his own understandings of the Scriptures, in particular, the Council of Constance. He goes on to say that only Christ is the head of the church, in need of no “vicar” even here and now on Earth.

Luther tells Eck, “I give St. Peter the highest honor, but not the greatest power. For he does not have the power either to create, to send forth, to govern, or to ordain the Apostles.” From the context, he seems to be talking about appointing successors to the apostles.

My immediate reaction to this is to say, “Then who has this power, Luther? You?” Christ is gone until he returns at the end of time. Eleven men ordained by Christ did not reach all the Earth with their teachings before they died. Those of us who have come after need guidance. I have often heard Luther’s assertion that Christ is the head of the church even now defended by saying the Holy Spirit is our liaison with Christ, and the Bible is the sole authority because people are unreliable. Honestly, every unreliable person depending on their own individual understanding as opposed to that of a structured, trained, and blessed leadership seems a lot more flawed.

Any person who’s half awake can see where sola scriptura has led to. Every person “led by the Holy Spirit” has interpreted the Bible very literally and very differently. Protestantism has fallen into disarray, with over 25,000 denominations. Each new denomination or even non-denomination becomes more fractured and more permissive. None can recommend themselves except by impressing that their theology or service feels right or is the closest match to a given Christian’s individual interpretation. The body of Christ needs a head, lest it fall into disarray.

I assume that Luther wasn’t calling for an all out anarchy of the generalized church, so it seems to me as if Luther wants to put himself in the place of Christ, the very thing he accusses the pope of doing. It also occurs to me that in the Lutheran church they do indeed create, send forth, govern, and ordain ministers. Maybe it makes them feel better not to call them apostles. What we are left with is that no matter what Luther’s intentions may have been, in effect, he replaced the current authority, Pope Leo X, with himself because he thought he was better read and more intelligent.

Did Luther not realize that someday he would die too? Maybe not all heads of the Lutheran church would be quite as well studied as Luther, or make the same decisions that Luther would in their place. Did it disturb him on his deathbed that he would have to relinquish control of his institution as well? I wonder.

Protestants generally don’t like the authority of the Pope. I’m not a Catholic yet, and I still have difficulties accepting it. But I can’t think of any system that could even work, much less work better. So I find myself standing where I never thought I would. If you believe that Christ was the son of God and died for our sins, giving us the way to salvation, then where can you turn but to the Catholic Church?