Saturday, December 31, 2011

Great Passage From Ruth

Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger? And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust. Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens. -Ruth 2:10-13

Friday, December 30, 2011

Augustine Quotation Stolen from Pr. Weedon's Blog

"But as I do not wish my reader to be bound down to me, so I do not wish my critic to be bound to himself. Let not the pious reader love me more than the catholic faith. Let not the critic love himself more than the catholic truth. I say to the pious reader, do not be willing to accept my writings as canonical Scriptures. But when you have discovered in the Scriptures what you did not previously believe, believe it unhesitatingly. While in my writings, unless you have understood certainly what you did not before hold as certain, be unwilling to hold it fast. I say to the critic, do not be wiling to amen my writings by your own opinion or argument, but [amend them] from the divine text or by unanswerable reason. If you apprehend anything of truth in them, its being there does not make it mine, but by understanding and loving it, let it be both yours and mine. But if you detect any falsehood, though it had once been mine in that I was guilty of error, now by avoiding it let it be neither yours nor mine." -St. Augustine "De Trinitate" 3.1

Read it for yourself, here

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Early Gallicanism - Arnulf of Reims

"a very monster of iniquity, reeking with the blood of his predecessor, mounts the throne of Peter. True, he [Pope Boniface VII] is expelled and condemned; but only to return again... What would you say of such a one, when you behold him sitting upon the throne glittering in purple and gold? Must he not be the 'Antichrist, sitting in the temple of God, and showing himself as God'? Verily such a one lacketh both wisdom and charity; he standeth in the temple as an image, as an idol, from which as from dead marble you would seek counsel.

But the Church of God is not subject to a wicked pope; nor even absolutely, and on all occasions, to a good one. Let us rather in our difficulties resort to our brethren of Belgium and Germany than to that city, where all things are venal, where judgment and justice are bartered for gold. Let us imitate the great church of Africa, which, in reply to the pretensions of the Roman pontiff, deemed it inconceivable that the Lord should have invested any one person with his own plenary prerogative and judicature, and yet have denied it to the great congregations of his priests assembled in council in different parts of the world... Why should he not be subject in judgment to those who, though lowest in place, are his superiors in virtue and in wisdom? Yea, not even he, the prince of the apostles, declined the rebuke of Paul, though his inferior in place, and, saith the great pope Gregory, 'if a bishop be in fault, I know not any one such who is not subject to the holy see; but if faultless, let every one understand that he is the equal of the Roman pontiff himself, and as well qualified as he to give judgment in any matter.'" - Abp. Arnulf of Reims A.D. 991

This speech was given in a Council which Pope John XV naturally declared null and void. Far be it from me to say this was an eschatological interpretation or that this and not Papal Supremacy was the majority opinion. However, it does seem to show how traditional and early Gallicanism had developed against Papal Supremacy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"You Alone Are The Holy One"

"The work of the Redeemer is a perfect work: nothing can be added to it, and nothing must be taken away from it. It is everlasting in its duration and efficacy; upon this the eye of faith should be invariably fixed, and from thence comfort and support in every state is to be drawn. Christ's blood is a constant propitiation, his righteousness is a perfect covering; to these reader, have daily recourse for cleansing and recommendation before God; by these you may silence all the accusations of Satan, all the clamours of conscience, all the threatenings of the law; for in Christ the believer is complete, and here may he safely rest in his dullest and heaviest moments." - Carl Heinrich von Bogatzky

First Lutheran Confession Today: 'All May, Some Should, None Must'

You should speak to the confessor thus: Reverend and dear sir, I beseech you to hear my confession, and to pronounce forgiveness to me for God's sake.


I, a poor sinner, confess myself before God guilty of all sins; especially I confess

(insert sins here)

Then shall the confessor say:

God be merciful to thee and strengthen thy faith! Amen.


Dost thou believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?


Yes, dear sir.

Then let him say:

As thou believest, so be it done unto thee. And by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive thee thy sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Depart in peace.

But those who have great burdens upon their consciences, or are distressed and tempted, the confessor will know how to comfort and to encourage to faith with more passages of Scripture. This is to be merely a general form of confession for the unlearned.

* These questions may not have been composed by Luther himself but reflect his teachings and were included in editions of the Small Catechism during his lifetime.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ruminations on Roger Scruton's Essay: "What Losing Faith Really Means"

Paying Attention to the Sky has posted an essay by Roger Scruton

As a person of vastly inferior intellect to Dr. Scruton, and as an ally to many of his causes, I wish to offer not so much a critique as my own perspective on the matter.

Two starting quotations:

"Husserl insists, the perspectival givenness of physical objects does not merely reflect our finite intellect or the physical makeup of our sensory apparatus. It is, on the contrary, rooted in the things themselves. As Husserl writes, even God, as the ideal of absolute knowledge, would have to experience physical objects in the same perspectival manner. Otherwise it would no longer be physical objects that he was experiencing." - Dan Zahavi "Husserl's Phenomenology" p 34

"A man must do his own believing as he must do his own dying" - Martin Luther as translated by Jaroslav Pelikan in "Luther and the Dawn of the Modern Era" p.5 (Pelikan goes on to attack the interpretation of this phrase that I will use)

Faith is an immensely personal thing. It is intensely uncool in academic settings to be a fan of the individual, as that is perceived even by those on the left as being crassly modern. Obviously, hyper-individualism has been problematic, but after seeing its excesses and those of the hyper-conformists (confessionalistas?) as I'd call them, I have to say I prefer St. Augustine to Pope Boniface VIII.

This is because, in my experience, when push comes to shove, at the root of all Western Christendom, lies the Confessions of St. Augustine. Perhaps the most individualistic propagation of theology ever, that spawned western introspection and was itself a reflection of Socrates' own struggles with his beliefs philosophy.

There was a phrase of medieval soteriology which went as follows: in fine salvus consistet - meaning One's salvation consists in the end (meaning the last moment of one's life).

Graham Greene's novels "The Heart of the Matter", and "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh exemplify this in Catholic thought. In both cases it is the individual in the last moment who decides their salvation or damnation. I don't think there are funerals (even in the harshest Rad-Trad Catholic churches) for those knowingly outside a state of grace, or who had excommunicated themselves (perhaps divorcees), where you'd hear a pious theologian tell the bereaved that because their loved one was outside the visible bonds of the Church they were burning in Hell (and this was to be known with dogmatic certainty). Divorcees, after all, now receive Catholic funderals, and canon law allows priests to say masses for "anyone, living or dead" (Canon 901).

In "Brighton Rock" Graham Greene has a murderer constantly singing the Agnus Dei to himself in the car, and continually repeating to himself that 'between the horse and the stirrup' - in that last moment of death - there can be true repentance. Greene himself wrote that perhaps no one loses his faith, it merely appears under another mask. And similarly, Greene placed into the mouth of the priest at the end of "Brighton Rock" a great speech about Charles Peguy who is tacitly acknowledged as a saint though he never received any of the sacraments of the Church. Simone Weil is another figure Catholics particularly admire who was in the same boat.

All of this in the end, is because whether they want to admit it or not, all Christians know that faith is a matter of the heart. The elect after all, are "hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). It's not visible or precisely measurable by human terms. In Catholicism interior contrition (true sorrow for sins) alone can save a person without any of the sacraments. In Protestantism interior saving faith alone (trust in Christ's meritorious death on the cross) can save a person, without any visible confession of it. As much as churches like to categorize faith by Confirmations, Confessions, and outward signs, it is all meaningless (as they admit) without the personal, the individual, and the interior. This is perhaps best displayed in Robert Bolt's classic work "A Man For All Seasons" about Sir/St. Thomas More who refused the act of Supremacy based on his personal religious convictions.

While churches, confessions, creeds, and confirmations all aim to give human guages to that invisible divine faith, they must always be remembered as provisional rather than definitive. St. Joan of Arc after all was condemned as a heretic and burnt at the stake only to later by canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint. As my father's friend liked to say "the heart has no dipstick".

If one wishes to guard against individuality I much prefer the way Luther proposed, when he wrote that:
"This is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive."

By resting in the promises of God, one avoids the proud arrogance of individualism, but places oneself in relation to the one individual who ties everything together. As Peter Kreeft liked to say, Christ is the center of Catholicism, and Christ is the center of Protestantism, and ecumenism must work outward from this unity. The Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, liked to say that the crucifix is the focal point of every Catholic church for a reason. To quote Chesterton: the cross is the crux of the matter.

In Christ we find unity, and become a part of the True Israel. Elijah could not break bread with the rest of Israel when he was off in the wilderness, but God fed him by ravens. Let us not be too hasty in our professions of extra ecclesiam nulla salus, to forget that as with Elijah, many scraps fall from the table of the feast of Abraham. Shame on us, if we reduce the invisible to the visible communion.

Thus faith can remain even in the hardest of hearts. Faith can do this because it is a resilient thing. It moves mountains. It has toppled empires. The righteous shall live by faith, even faith, as small as a mustard seed, and even the faith in the confession "I believe Lord, help thou mine unbelief".

An Old Lutheran Ecumenical Statement on Eastern Orthodoxy

"It was to destroy this sort of religion that Jesus Christ suffered himself to be nailed to the cross, and now we find it re-established under his name..." - Adolf von Harnack

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Not Really Theology But...

I finished my last history paper of the semester. It was on English newspaper coverage of Anti-Clericalism in the Spanish Civil War, and about how reports of anti-clerical violence were used to smear Communism by Fascists, but also how Christian Socialists perceived the Spanish Roman Catholic Church's siding with the Nationalists as in a sense anti-clerical in that it attacked the laity who were in one sense a royal priesthood.

It's been a good 5 years writing essays on Catholics, and that was my last one. From now on I guess I'll write about Protestants, which is awkward because I really haven't dealt with them in a while... Or I could just continue writing about Catholics. Apparently there are Lutheran and Protestant historians of (Roman) Catholicism. Leopold von Ranke and J.N.D. Kelly I can think of from the top of my head.

We'll see...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Excerpts of The Delicious Destruction of Thomism by Paul Ricoeur

""repentance" belongs to the same thematic universe as trnsgression and merit, and it is no accident that it was precisely Judaism that laid emphasis on this concept. For "repentance" signifies that "return" to God, freely chosen, is always open to man; and the example of great and impious men who have "returned" to the Eternal attests that it is always possible for a man to "change his way." This emphasis on repentance is in conformity with the intepretation of "evil inclination" as occasion of sin and not as radical evil. The ethical universe of Pharisaism is already that of Pelagius: no great contrasts, as in Paul, Augustine, and Luther, between radical evil and radical deliverance, but a slow and progressive process of salvation, in which "pardon" is not lacking to "repentance," grace to the good will." - Paul Ricoeur "The Symbolism of Evil" (131)

"justice, although it is extrinsic to a man as far as its origin is concerned, has become something that dwells within him, as far as its operation is concerned; the "future" justice is already imputed to the man who believes; and so the man who is "declared" just is "made" just, really and vitally. Thus there is no ground for opposing the forensic and eschatological sense of justice to its immanent and present sense: for Paul the first is the cause of the second, but the second is the full manifestation of the first; the paradox is that the acme of outwardness is the acme of inwardness, of that inwardness that Paul calls new creature, or liberty. Liberty, considered from the point of view of last things, is not the power of hesitating and choosing between contraries, nor is it effort, good will, responsibility. For St. Paul, as for Hegel, it is being at home with oneself, in the whole, in the recapitulation of Christ." - Paul Ricoeur "The Symbolism of Evil" (148)

"Such is the symbol in the light of which the final experience of fault is perceived as something in the past that one has got beyond. It is because "justification" is the present which dominates the backward look on sin, that the supreme sin consists, in the last resort, in the vain attempt to justify oneself... Justification by faith, then, is what makes manifest the failure of justification by the law, and the failure of the justice of works is what reveals the unity of the entire domain of sin." - Paul Ricoeur "The Symbolism of Evil" (148)

"evil is not nothing; it is not a simple lack, a simple absence of order; it is the power of darkness; it is posited; in this sense it is something to be "taken way": "I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," says the interior Master. Hence, every reduction of evil to a simple lack of being remains outside the symbolism of defilement, which is complete only when defilement has become guilt." - Paul Ricoeur "The Symbolism of Evil" (155)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Beautiful Excerpt From Donne

(this is New St. Paul's Cathedral in London)
John Donne (the sometime Dean of Old St. Paul's) has inspired me lately as a recusant (his mother I believe was the grand-niece of St. Thomas More) who turned Anglican. His faith is usually seen as a forgery out of expediency, like so many, a minister of the CofE for profit. However, lately I've found a lot of even his private writing to be unabashedly Protestant (Holy Sonnet XIV is the locus classicus). While this would be unfair to my Calvinistic and Anglican friends who could surely claim him as their own before I could, I have to say that his meditations on Christ crucified show him to come quite close to the Lutheran Tradition:

"There now hangs that sacred Body upon the Crosse, rebaptized in his owne teares and sweat, and embalmed in his owne blood alive. There are those bowells of compassion, which are so conspicuous, so manifested, as that you may see them through his wounds. There those glorious eyes grew faint in their light: so as the Sun ashamed to survive them, departed with his light too. And then that Sonne of God, who was never from us, and yet had now come a new way unto us in assuming our nature, delivers that soule (which was never out of his Father's hand) by a new way, a voluntary emission of it into his Father's hands; For though to his God our Lord, belong'd these issues of death, so that considered in his owne contract, he must necessarily die, yet at no breach or battery, which they had made upon his sacred Body, issued his soule, but emisit, hee gave up the Ghost, and as God breathed a soule into the first Adam, so this second Adam breathed his soule into God, into the hands of God. There wee leave you in that blessed dependancy, to hang upon him that hangs upon the Crosse, there bath in his teares, there suck at his woundes, and lie downe in peace in his grave, till hee vouchsafe you a resurrection, and an ascension into that Kingdome, which hee hath purchas'd for you, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood." - John Donne

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rufinus' Commentary on the Creed: The Apocrypha

It's funny because my working motto has been "Yea let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom 3:4) when approaching the fathers. In other words, I've said, I want to respect the Tradition that has been passed down to me, but if it is the case that the fathers reject any doctrine I feel to be truly contained in the Scriptures then I will reject that fathers' teaching. But funnily enough, I've found more confirmation of Protestant beliefs in the fathers since I started reading them again.

I will not say what Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy says: namely, that the fathers teach our position alone. Such a case is necessary with the epistemic claims of both of those Traditions. However, Protestantism merely says, 'this is what the bible teaches' and in so much as the Church throughout the ages have confessed the bible, they have confessed this faith. For this reason, we only need to show how our doctrines are in the fathers, and need not prove that they are the only opinions in the fathers.

Regarding the issue of the canon, I found Rufinus' commentary on the Creed quite illuminating, and at one point I realized it was almost the exact same words as the 39 articles use, concerning the apocrypha. "And the other books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine."

"But it should be known that there are also other books which our fathers call not "Canonical" but "Ecclesiastical:" that is to say, Wisdom, called the Wisdom of Solomon, and another Wisdom, called the Wisdom of the Son of Syrach, which last-mentioned the Latins called by the general title Ecclesiasticus, designating not the author of the book, but the character of the writing. To the same class belong the Book of Tobit, and the Book of Judith, and the Books of the Maccabees. In the New Testament the little book which is called the Book of the Pastor of Hermas, [and that] which is called The Two Ways, or the Judgment of Peter; all of which they would have read in the Churches, but not appealed to for the confirmation of doctrine. The other writings they have named "Apocrypha." These they would not have read in the Churches.

These are the traditions which the Fathers have handed down to us, which, as I said, I have thought it opportune to set forth in this place, for the instruction of those who are being taught the first elements of the Church and of the Faith, that they may know from what fountains of the Word of God their draughts must be taken."-38

John Bunyan - Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (Excerpt)

"I was often much cast down, and afflicted in my mind therewith, yet could I not let go my sins: yea, I was also then so overcome with despair of life and heaven, that I should often wish, either that there had been no hell, or that I had been a devil; supposing they were only tormentors; that if it must needs be, that I went thither, I might be rather a tormentor, than be tormented myself."

I read that today and could immediately relate.

I find that amidst Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Copts there is so much derision and mockery that go towards Baptists. While the anabaptist heresy is evil in many ways, there have been many great Baptists whom I wish to learn from, John Bunyan being one of them.

I think Billy Graham should refer to himself as H.H. Rev. Dr. Mar Billy I Catholicos-Patriarch of all Baptists, claim spiritual descent from St. John the Baptist who had spiritual primacy even over St. Peter (Mt. 11:11), find 3 Old Catholic and/or PNCC bishops to ordain him, and then have ecumenical meetings in Rome on behalf of the 100 million odd Baptists around the world and be respected. (compare:, then suddenly Pope Benedict would be forced to kiss his ring, and have ecumenical meetings with him, expressing their partnership in the gospel and the unfortunate and unnecessary historic divisions between them, etc.

Monday, December 12, 2011

St. Athanasius Incomparably Better than Origen

"Thus each of these heresies, in respect of the peculiar impiety of its invention, has nothing in common with the Scriptures. And their advocates are aware of this, that the Scriptures are very much, or rather altogether, opposed to the doctrines of every one of them; but for the sake of deceiving the more simple sort ... they pretend like their 'father the devil John 8:44 ' to study and to quote the language of Scripture, in order that they may appear by their words to have a right belief, and so may persuade their wretched followers to believe what is contrary to the Scriptures. ... The Lord spoke concerning them, that 'there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, so that they shall deceive many Matthew 24:24.' ... Wherefore the faithful Christian and true disciple of the Gospel, having grace to discern spiritual things, and having built the house of his faith upon a rock, stands continually firm and secure from their deceits. But the simple person, as I said before, that is not thoroughly grounded in knowledge, such an one, considering only the words that are spoken and not perceiving their meaning, is immediately drawn away by their wiles. Wherefore it is good and needful for us to pray that we may receive the gift of discerning spirits, so that every one may know, according to the precept of John, whom he ought to reject, and whom to receive as friends and of the same faith. Now one might write at great length concerning these things, if one desired to go into details respecting them; for the impiety and perverseness of heresies will appear to be manifold and various, and the craft of the deceivers to be very terrible. But since holy Scripture is of all things most sufficient for us, therefore recommending to those who desire to know more of these matters, to read the Divine word, I now hasten to set before you that which most claims attention, and for the sake of which principally I have written these things." - St. Athanasius (#4 Here)

St. Athanasius is a little low-church for me here, I mean, he shouldn't have said that people should read the Scriptures and trust in their individual discernment by God's grace. He should've told them to read the dogmatic pronouncements of their bishops... because they're the successors of the apostles after all, carrying the apostles' orthodoxy and faith... except when they confess heresies like Arianism... at which point only the bishop of Rome is the successor of the apostles... unless he confesses monothelitism... in which case all his dogmatic pronouncements don't count as dogmatic pronouncements... I think that's how the logic goes...

Anyway, while St. Athanasius could suggest such a methodology to stop the Arians, I wish he'd written advice on how to deal with the Anabaptists... (until then, we'll just keep administering 3rd baptism I suppose).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Alexander of Lycopolis

Was apparently not a fan of Philosophy. I'm starting to agree with the Orthodox on this, philosophy is not good. Or as Tertullian said: what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

(although I'm cooking up a clever phenomenological philosophy of intersubjectivity that I plan to unleash on my thomistic opponents eventually)

Anyway, Alexander of Lycopolis, who NewAdvent informs me, was a Church Father, said:

"The philosophy of the Christians is termed simple. But it bestows very great attention to the formation of manners, enigmatically insinuating words of more certain truth respecting God... For Christians leaving to ethical students matters more toilsome and difficult, as, for instance, what is virtue, moral and intellectual; and to those who employ their time in forming hypotheses respecting morals, and the passions and affections, without marking out any element by which each virtue is to be attained, and heaping up, as it were, at random precepts less subtle— the common people, hearing these, even as we learn by experience, make great progress in modesty, and a character of piety is imprinted on their manners, quickening the moral disposition which from such usages is formed, and leading them by degrees to the desire of what is honourable and good.

But this being divided into many questions by the number of those who come after, there arise many, just as is the case with those who are devoted to dialectics, some more skilful than others, and, so to speak, more sagacious in handling nice and subtle questions; so that now they come forward as parents and originators of sects and heresies. And by these the formation of morals is hindered and rendered obscure; for those do not attain unto certain verity of discourse who wish to become the heads of the sects, and the common people is to a greater degree excited to strife and contention. And there being no rule nor law by which a solution may be obtained of the things which are called in question, but, as in other matters, this ambitious rivalry running out into excess, there is nothing to which it does not cause damage and injury.

the deception caused by discourse of this sort has drawn over to itself some of those who have pursued the study of philosophy with me..."

Not exactly an Augustinian word-smith this Alexander. Nonetheless the general sense seems to be:

1. Christianity is a simplistic philosophy dealing with God not virtue (Theology is probably a better term)
2. Heretics use philosophy, and it has led people away from the truth.
3. Heretical philosophy can be discerned experientially / by seeing it lead to immoral lifestyles.

How I treat the Church Fathers and non-conciliar traditions

If a tradition is not Tradition, for instance, the view of a single church father, I treat it as the RCC treats private revelation. Just substitute the words "private revelation" for "tradition"

"Private revelation … can be a genuine help in understanding the Gospel and living it better at a particular moment in time; therefore it should not be disregarded. It is a help which is offered, but which one is not obliged to use … The criterion for the truth and value of a private revelation is therefore its orientation to Christ himself. When it leads us away from him, when it becomes independent of him or even presents itself as another and better plan of salvation, more important than the Gospel, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit." ( Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Theological Commentary on the Message of Fatima , 26 June, 2000 ).

Humorous Polemicism

God is currently teaching me how to lose arguments which is fitting for one such as I who is trying to become less and less dependant on human reasoning.

The thing that gets to me is that I like to joke about things, I like to admit where my case is hopelessly weak and enjoy it when others do the same. For instance, I remember once having a humorous conversation with a professor I had when I was Roman Catholic. He was Reformed, and we were discussing the problems of the Reformation. He joked that if I was willing to get rid of papal infallibility, he'd toss sola scriptura, and all of us could become Orthodox.

I didn't lunge at him and start attacking his views of sola scripture, I laughed, because there was a lot of truth in what he said.

It might be a history-person thing, Pelikan did it a lot in his writings, where to challenge a philsophical or theological point, you throw out a humorous anecdotal point to counter your opponent, not to 'prove' your case, but to lighten the mood.

It's like when Devin jokingly mentioned Martin Luther's views on James when I was defending his piety towards sacred scripture. It didn't completely level my views, but it was humorous, made me think, and realize the situation wasn't as simple as I'd portryed it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Perhaps Origen isn't so bad...

Origen makes a good point that the gold (philosophy) plundered from the Egyptians made both the ark and the golden calf. So we ought to be very careful with philosophy.

"These are they who, from their Greek studies, produce heretical notions, and set them up, like the golden calf, in Bethel, which signifies "God's house." In these words also there seems to me an indication that they have set up their own imaginations in the Scriptures, where the word of God dwells, which is called in a figure Bethel... Do you then, my son, diligently apply yourself to the reading of the sacred Scriptures. Apply yourself, I say. For we who read the things of God need much application, lest we should say or think anything too rashly about them. And applying yourself thus to the study of the things of God, with faithful prejudgments such as are well pleasing to God, knock at its locked door, and it will be opened to you by the porter, of whom Jesus says, "To him the porter opens." And applying yourself thus to the divine study, seek aright, and with unwavering trust in God, the meaning of the holy Scriptures, which so many have missed. Be not satisfied with knocking and seeking; for prayer is of all things indispensable to the knowledge of the things of God." -Origen's Letter to Gregory

It's interesting that he conflated God's house with the Scriptures, though I won't read too much into that. More than any specific phrases, I'm amazed to see once more how tied to the scriptures the fathers were. Every other sentence is a bible verse.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

O Sweet Exchange!

"In His mercy He took up the burden of our sins. He Himself gave up His own Son as a ransom for us-- the Holy One for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else could cover our sins except for His righteousness? In whom we, lawless and impious as we were, be made righteous except in the Son of God alone? O sweet exchange! O unfathomable work of God! O blessings beyond all expectation! The sinfulness of many is hidden in the Righteous One. While the righteousness of the One justifies the many that are sinners." - Letter to Diognetus.

So far I don't like Origen...

" Then came Peter and said unto Him, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?" Matthew 18:21

"there is no forgiveness, not even to a brother, who has sinned beyond the seven and seventy times." - Origen's Commentary on Matthew (5)

I must respectfully facepalm and say unto Origen: 'epic fail'.

The Use & Abuse of the Church Fathers: St. Ambrose

When trying to argue about a 'side' in either the Great Schism (1054 - Between the East and the West) or in the Reformation, the use of the fathers can be downright abuse.

I found a perfect example this morning.

The Text Itself

Here's a portion of Saint Ambrose of Milan's "The Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord"

"when he [Peter] heard But who do you say I am,' immediately, not unmindful of his station, exercised his primacy, that is, the primacy of confession, not of honor; the primacy of belief, not of rank... [those] who said that Christ was either Elias, or Jeremias... that voice had filth, that voice had perplexities... let our voice resound that Christ is the Son of God. My words are pure, in which expressed impiety has left no perplexities.' This, then, is Peter, who has replied for the rest of the Apostles rather, before the rest of men. And so he is called the foundation, because he knows how to preserve not only his own but the common foundation Christ agreed with him the Father revealed it to him. For he who speaks of the true generation of the Father, received it from the Father, did not receive it from the flesh. Faith, then, is the foundation of the Church, for it was not said of Peter's flesh, but of his faith, that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' But his confession of faith conquered hell. And this confession did not shut out one heresy, for, since the Church like a good ship is often buffeted by many waves, the foundation of the Church should prevail against all heresies. The day will fail me sooner than the names of heretics and the different sects, yet against all is this general faith - that Christ is the Son of God, and eternal from the Father, and born of the Virgin Mary..." - 32-35

How it is used

Now if you're browsing "Catholic Answers" forums or reading the new Scott Hahn book, you may see quotations from this passage like: "[Peter] heard But who do you say I am,' immediately, not unmindful of his station, exercised his primacy, that is, the primacy of confession... the primacy of belief" or perhaps when attacking Anglicans and Orthodox, you'll see: "Peter... has replied for the rest of the Apostles"

Then when you're browsing Lutheran or Reformed websites, you'll see James White throw out: "Faith, then, is the foundation of the Church, for it was not said of Peter's flesh, but of his faith, that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' But his confession of faith..." without any mention to that primacy talk earlier.

What it is actually saying:

Now the whole point of the text was to refute the Arian heresy which denied the deity of Christ, as well as the long list of other heresies down to the Monophysites, who all in some sense denied that Christ was both God and Man completely. The reason St. Ambrose wrote this, was to get that point across, not to discuss episcopal squables or establish an ecclesiology.

In the end, a Baptist can read this and add a hearty amen, just as much as a Roman Catholic can, because they both confess that Jesus is True God and True Man.

Or as the Simpsons constantly encourages us: can't we all just go beat up some Unitarians?

Do we really care what the fathers say?

I'll add this final warning to those who wish to turn the fathers into 11th or 16th century polemicists.We need to look at their writings honestly and carefully, admitting that in some ways we all stand in utter contradiction to the fathers. Perhaps even admitting that where they agreed, they were either wrong or at least, not totally right.

For instance, it is a widely known fact that the consensus of the fathers for some five hundred years, universally condemned musical instruments in worship, and claimed that this was a pagan practice.

Who follows such a belief?

And let's just say that we agree with the fathers and say: musical instruments are evil, or shouldn't be used in worship. What about David? For Holy Writ admonishes: "Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings." (Ps. 33:2)

Who is to be believed?

Even if we say the fathers, what would they say?

"I do not wish that credence be given us; let the Scripture be quoted. Not of myself do I say: ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ but I hear it; I do not feign but I read what we all read" - St. Ambrose of Milan (The Sacrament of the Incarnation of the Lord)

But the question this post should leave you with is of course: Did he take that out of context?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

St. Gregory of Nyssa on Scripture

"Just as at the sea those who are carried away from the direction of the harbor bring themselves back on course by a clear sign, on seeing a tall beacon light or some mountain peak coming into view, so Scripture may guide those adrift on the sea of life back into the harbor of the divine will" - St. Gregory of Nyssa

Anselmian Substitutionary Atonement in the Church of the East?

"Jesus Christ walked in the flesh thirty-three years on the earth, O King. In the thirtieth year he repaid to God all the debt that the human kind and angels owed to Him. It was a debt that no man and no angel was able to pay, because there has never been a created being that was free from sin, except the Man with whom God clothed Himself and became one with Him in a wonderful unity." - Catholicos Timothy I, Patriarch of the Church of the East (here)

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Sign of the Cross

I came across this article by a Roman Catholic priest.

Apparently all Christians, even in the West, made the sign of the cross the (now) Orthodox way. As you can usually guess with Catholic-Orthodox history, this changed when Pope Innocent III decided to change things and have Western Christians go left to right shoulder. It makes more sense now that he ordered the crusade which sacked Constantinople in 1204 as well.

I was curious why my Lutheran pastor crossed himself 'the Orthodox way', and now I see why. I too will join the Orthodox in making the signum crucis right to left.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Church of the East ; Philip Jenkins ; Cornelius

No one has been sent to us Orientals by the Pope. The holy apostles aforesaid taught us and we still hold today what they handed down to us. -Rabban Bar Sauma c. 1290

I read way too much of this book tonight, instead of doing my homework.

It's funny because the more I read about Orthodoxy both Eastern and Oriental, and the more Confessional Anglicans and Lutherans I read, the more I am overwhelmed by the fact that we all confess the same traditional faith. Where we diverge is obviously important, but the fact that we all agree on the Trinity, largely the first 7 ecumenical councils, and to differing degrees, the Old and New Testament, there's actually a lot in common by way of heritage.

And it's also funny because at the same time, I'm amazed at how absent Christ can be in faiths that bear his name. Suddenly one's identity becomes based on who is the true catholicos, or who is the real head of the church. In reality, I think we should be looking to the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour. As a Protestant Christian I also think the bishops of the world should stop claiming to be "more bishop-y than other bishops" (to quote my old Reformed professor of religious philosophy). If a bishop or a pastor is a shepherd, this should always be remembered to be at best a visible analogy or sign of Christ who is the True head of the Church, the real universal shepherd.

You can have all the unified ecclesiastical bodies in the world and yet lose your soul.

I'm struck by the story of Cornelius in Acts 10, who was an unbaptized gentile that prayed. And yet when St. Peter arrives at his door, he exclaims so beautifully:

"So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ ( he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, "Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days."

This is my new ecclesiology.

(John Woo is a Chinese-American Lutheran, just threw him in here to show an 'eastern Christian')

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Surprised by Joy

It's funny because I'm supposed to feel somber and solemn these days. My RC chaplain friend is pissed at me, and I have a bunch of papers due, but I can't help it. I'm not sad or scared.

I'm joyful.

I feel so free.

I haven't felt this good in so long. I have hope. I sing with St. Paul: "Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies." (Rom 8:33)

The Reformer of Wittenberg used to sign his name: Martinus Eleutherius, meaning Martin the Free One.

As an Anglican I used to pray daily in the morning Liturgy to the God, "whose service is perfect freedom". I love that phrase. It's beautiful.

I have the whole evening to myself, I could do anything, and I'm going to sit down, put on some pajamas, make some hot chocolate, and grab my biggest bible and a patristic commentary.

Just the thought that God unconditionally accepts me for Christ's sake is too marvellous to bear. This great crucified God, "[w]ho was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." (Rm 4:25).

Blessed be God forever.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. - 1 Tim 4:14

I actually think the Methodists have pwned the Anglicans with this verse. If St. Timothy was Bishop of Ephesus, why were the hands of the presbytery laid upon him in consecration? This would go with St. Jerome's / the Presbyterians' argument that there are only two levels of church gov't.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Funny moment

on my facebook there appeared two suggestions for things for me to like:
The Catholic Church
Martin Luther

facebook is apparently getting really advanced...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Some Passages from St. Bernard of Clairvaux & Thoughts

"And who need wonder when I say that the Word was united to human flesh through the faith of Mary, seeing that He received that same flesh from hers ? There is nothing in the foregoing explanation opposed to our regarding the faith of Mary as a type of the kingdom of heaven ; nor does it seem unfitting to compare her faith with the kingdom of heaven, since by that same faith its losses are repaired."


"O Lamb of God ! O truly meek Lamb ! do Thou open the book. Open out Thy pierced hands and feet, that the treasure of salvation and the plentiful redemption hidden
in them may come forth."


"If there be anyone stained with crime, and driven headlong by despair to the pit of destruction, let him call upon this life-giving name, and he will speedily be restored to hope and salvation. Is there anyone amongst you in hardness of heart, in sloth, or tepidity, in bitterness of mind, if he will but invoke the name of Jesus his heart will be softened, and tears of contrition will flow gently and abundantly. In dangers and distress, in fears and anxieties, let him call on this name of power, and his confidence will return, his peace of mind will be restored. Doubts and embarrassments will be dispelled and give place to certainty. There is no ill of life, no adversity or misfortune, in which this adorable name will not bring help and fortitude. It is a remedy whose virtue our dear Saviour invites us to test."


I've always loved St. Bernard. I believe it was Calvin who cited him more than any other Christian author. He has such a lively faith, and a love for Jesus that just shines through the page. I wish I had someone like him to teach me the faith sometimes.

The pastor I've been meeting with has been great, and is very meek. Not at all argumentative or polemical, a quiet man. Of course as our Lord said, "they will all be taught by God" (Jn 6:45) so I suppose I have nothing to complain about. Just like the Blessed Virgin, and the Patriarchs, and St. Bernard (and Calvin?), all I can do is trust in the promises of God, and call upon the name of Jesus, for he - not me or anyone else - is my Saviour.

"they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."" - John 6:28-29

Jesus I trust in You

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Fred has rightly reminded and corrected me, that I was mistaken about St. Augustine's concubine.

A Photograph of Two Great Christian Adulterers

I was trying to explain to someone the other day that a person's sin is no reason to discount their theology.

These two men were both great Christian thinkers and witnesses, and yes, there is substantial evidence that both of them had mistresses / cheated on their wives.

If only I could find a picture of these two with Fr. Karl Rahner (though apparently he was technically a fornicator, and his mistress was an adulteress), then we'd have all 3 of them.

The great other exception is of course St. Augustine, who had multiple concubines, once for over a decade.

Of course, we are not good, because of our righteousness, but because of Christ. After all, concerning the so-called "free" will, St. Augustine wrote:

"Behold what damage the disobedience of the will has inflicted on man's nature! Let him be permitted to pray that he may be healed! Why need he [Pelagius] presume so much on the capacity of his nature? It is wounded, hurt, damaged, destroyed. It is a true confession of its weakness, not a false defence of its capacity, that it stands in need of." - St. Augustine (On Nature and Grace, 62.)

And as the very traditional Catholic legend goes, the saints rejoice in Heaven over their sins, because they were opportunities for the abundance of God's grace to shine through.

Some Milton

This downfall; since by Fate the strength of Gods
And this Empyreal substance cannot fail,
Since through experience of this great event
In Arms not worse, in foresight much advanc't,
We may with more successful hope resolve
To wage by force or guile eternal Warr
Irreconcileable, to our grand Foe,
Who now triumphs, and in th' excess of joy
Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav'n.
So spake th' Apostate Angel, though in pain...
- John Milton "Paradise Lost" Bk. 1, Lns. 115-125

Proposed Syllogism

love is the fulfilling of the law - Romans 13:10
by works of the law no human being will be justified - Romans 3:20
justification cannot be based upon Love (as Roman Catholics claim justifying faith is faith formed by love, or faith & love)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Good Shepherd Iconography

Roman Catholic Jesus (The Good Shepherd)

My commentary here seems to be the way that Western Christian art de-masculinizes Jesus. Sometimes to the extreme. For instance, the Western mystics speak about Christ nursing them at times. (St. Bernard claimed to have nursed from the Blessed Virgin, but I'm not touching that issue). I sometimes enjoy these portrayals of Christ, and I think they were produced to show the approachability(?) of Christ, and his meekness. I like this image a lot, and after spending enough time in the RCC, I have come to identify with it's once foreign iconography and art. It's a very kind Jesus.

East Orthodox Jesus (The Good Shepherd)

There's no one quite like Orthodox Jesus. Half Putin, half Goliath. That sheep is being dragged with Him whether it likes it or not (paradoxically contradictory to the EO view of predestination, but I guess sometimes lex orandi lex credendi non est). Sometimes I feel like I'm looking at Vlad the Impaler, rather that our blessed Lord, but other times I'm impressed by the authority and power of Christ. This icon reminds me of his strong words: "[m]y sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me". If I heard this man shouting at me (with a heavy Russian accent?) I would certainly stop what I was doing, and listen.

Synthesis / Protestant(?) Jesus

This image is a nice rapproachment between the East & West. It's an image from a Lutheran church in my province. I won't say it's the best because of it's denominational affiliation, after all, it might've just been a public domain image that they slapped on their website. However, I think it does a good job of capturing the humanity of Christ (while keeping him masculine), and also the sheep over his shoulders is quite significant to me, and is more reminiscent of Lk 15:5 "when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing."

Christ is my Good Shepherd, who leaves the 99 to find me, a wayward sheep, one which doesn't heed his voice, and wanders my own way, but whom the Lord graciously picks up and carries home himself.

Morning Ramblings: The Paraclete's Power

I just wrote this long and great story of the Holy Ghost leading me to resist temptation, and then I realized that it all just amounted to me trying to impress my RC friends that I'm still a Christian and more holy now than ever.

...It's hard not picking up the shackles of the Law over and over again. It's so much easier to try to justify yourself, than to plead guilty and ask for pardon.

In reality, despite whatever meager acheivements would've been won by me (or t Spirit in me), I am called to repent of my false righteousness and simply trust in the victory of Christ rather than any of my own victories.

"...sanctifying is nothing else than bringing us to Christ to receive this good, to which we could not attain of ourselves... He [The Holy Ghost] fetches us to Christ" - Martin Luther (The Large Catechism) 39, 53

So instead of another chapter to a pseudo-Augustine's style "Confessions", here's some wonderful music by Johann Sebastian Bach.

With wiki's more literal translation of the words:

Well for me that I have Jesus,
O how strong I hold to him
that he might refresh my heart,
when sick and sad am I.
Jesus have I, who loves me
and gives to me his own,
ah, therefore I will not leave Jesus,
when I feel my heart is breaking.

Jesus remains my joy,
my heart's comfort and essence,
Jesus resists all suffering,
He is my life's strength,
my eye's desire and sun,
my soul's love and joy;
so will I not leave Jesus
out of heart and face.

This is my 'resisting the Devil' theme music. Every time I'm really tempted I think of these words, hum Bach, and trust in the righteousness of Christ. I've been sitting in my office at the university listening to it for probably an hour now.

Monday, November 21, 2011

More on Vocation: Things I thought today in my office

A girl came into my office jokingly asking me if I knew anything about American foreign policy and religion after 1914, and was shocked when I provided her with three separate answers and sources for each (1. American endorsement of radical Islam during the Soviet-Afghan War, 2. Vatican-U.S Relations from Truman to Kennedy, 3. The preferred status and evacuation of Christian South Vietnamese for refugee status after the fall of Saigon). She kept telling me I was so smart, but she has more funding and higher grades than I do because she doesn't argue with the professors.

I prayed a bit, trying to discern my vocation and came to these hesitant conclusions:

1. You are more intelligent than most professors, but there are many other people who are just as intelligent as you are, and plenty of people more intelligent. It is good, and you should be grateful for it, but it is not the one needful

2. You really need to be married, and loved. I can do a lot, but I have no faith in myself. If there is someone who is in my corner, so to speak, I could do so much more with my life.

3. There will be nothing ordinary about your life. There is no template you are working against. My story doesn't fit the 'traditional' vocation stories of a cleric, professor, or anything else. I will have to be led by God himself to what my calling is.

No more purely anti-Roman Catholic posts

I feel that I have sufficiently defended my theological shift in beliefs thus far. That being said, I truly love my Roman Catholic friends and all the wonderful Christian truths they profess. For this reason, I want to cease making this blog primarily about a polemical attack on any confession (though I'm sure I will slip often).

After all, Our Blessed Lord said, "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." (Mt. 7:2).

While it goes against my current theology, as someone who has switched confessions before, it would be prudent for me to be careful in my judgment of others.

Luther's really Real Presence v. Thomistic Calvinism

I was shown a brilliant article furthermore ripping apart Aquinas in ways I never knew! For instance the entire Lutheran/Nominalist argument that in the 'hoc enim meum corpus est', Aquinas asserts the 'hoc' as the body of Christ (because he can't say the bread remains), so it amounts to 'my body is my body'. Brilliant. Here's a later quotation from the argument though, that is likewise surprising and fascinating:

"Luther’s understanding of the real presence cannot be
deemed a via media between Roman excess and Reformed understatement.
The medieval theory of transubstantiation is, in fact,
poles removed from any crass overstatement of the real presence.
Rather, transubstantiation, at any rate as expounded by Thomas
Aquinas, represents a watering down and evaporating away of the
real presence, which is conceived more as the presence of the idea
of the body of Christ than as the actual presence of the sacred
body itself. In keeping with the anti-Thomist position of his
nominalist forbears, Luther, as the two quotations at the head of
this section indicate, had a much stronger conception of the real
presence than did Aquinas. “[T]he massive limbs [are] there so
concealed that no one sees or feels them.” “[S]o great a body [is]
in so small a piece of bread.” Such a massively realistic confession
would have been impossible for Thomas Aquinas, whom the late
Hermann Sasse, writing to the Swedish Gnesio-Lutheran Tom
Hardt, dubbed a “Semi-Calvinist” in this connection." - Dr. John Stephenson (here:

(This is my friend Margaret's Dad, who had some hilarious and great conversations with me - he is an incredible historical theologian)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Funny Quote From Luther's Small Catechism

"20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it ...[Gal 5, Rom 7]... Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say...[Jn 15, 1Jn2,5]... Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace..."- Luther's Small Catechism.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Concupiscence & You

"What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? God forbid. But I do not know sin, but by the law; for I had not known concupiscence, if the law did not say: Thou shalt not covet. But sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. " - Romans 7:7-8 (Douay-Rheims/Roman Catholic translation)

Works of the Law/N.T. Wright

It has been suggested that I read Bishop Wright's interpretation on justification. I have, it's wrong. This passage proves all the points against him.

He - and subsequently RCs - has interpretted the 'works of the law' which we are not justified by, as 'external legal/mosaic works and ceremonies' (ex. circumcision). His Grace concludes that Christian justification is primarily the life of Christ lived in us and shown by virtue, by following the 'spiritual law' of Christ (his morality). He rejects the claim that the Reformers made that 'works of the law' meant good works performed by Christians.

It shows that covetting - an internal matter of the heart, IS opposed to the law/'works of the law'. Covetting is not a mosaic ritual, it's an issue of Christ-like virtue.

Likewise Galatians 5 lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit and says, "against such things there is no law", again identifying virtue with 'the law'.


The case laid out at the Council of Trent, which I knowingly reject, is the argument that it is not sin formally dwelling in us that St. Paul refers to, but concupiscence (the desire for sin in St. Augustine, or material original sin in Thomas Aquinas - even here you see how the RC shift is made to rethinking humanity's sinful nature). I've already shown how Thomistic hermeneutics obliges us to read "sin" here and in Romans 7:20 as Formal, Substantial, and Entire, SIN.

Likewise in 7:8 "sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence". What is the subject of the sentence: sin. What is it doing? causing concupiscence/lust/the desire for sin. This is totally the opposite of Trent! Trent says that concupiscence - which isn't sin, but dwells in us - leads us to sin. St. Paul says that sin - which IS sin, dwells in us - and makes us have concupiscence/desire for sin.

I don't know how it could be any clearer that while one may not be comfortable with saying "sin nature" (I actually had an FSSP priest use this phrase twice with me by the way in confession - James knows the guy!), the passage clearly implies that Sin is dwelling in Christians, and making them desire sinful things.

This isn't the rose-coloured picture we get of the scholastics, with a good human nature merely having a potential for evil. (I learned my understanding of Thomas' doctrine of Original Sin, by reading the Called To Communion posts on Trent, and Chesterton's book on St. Thomas)

How Do We Know the True Religion?

On the curious question of how Christians know heresy from orthodoxy, I found a great quote from St. Irenaeus of Lyons in his book Against the Heresies:

"Anyone who keeps unswervingly in himself the canon of truth received through baptism will recognize the names and sayings and parables from the Scriptures, but this blasphemous hypothesis of theirs [viz. of the heretics] he will not recognize. For if he recognizes the jewels, he will not accept the fox as the image of the king. He will restore each one of the passages to its proper order, and having fit it into the body of the truth, he will lay bare their fabrication and show that it is without support." (via:

It is interesting that St. Irenaeus does not point us in this instance, to a magisterium, but rather to the Gospel, which is signified in baptism (one of the ordinary means of grace).

Luther on Noah

"Nor must we trust in holiness of origin, in forefathers, or in the gifts of God which we enjoy. We must look to the Word alone and judge thereby. Those alone who truly embrace the Word will be as immovable forever as Mount Zion. They may be few in number and thoroughly despised by the world, as were Noah and his children. But God, through these few, preserved to man the truth of that promised mastery when he had not even room to set his foot upon the earth...

Let us say with Noah: I know that I am righteous before God, even though the whole world condemn me as heretical and wicked, yea, even desert me. Thus did the apostles desert Christ, leaving him alone; but he said (Jn 16, 32): "I am not alone." Thus did the false brethren desert Paul. Hence, this is no uncommon danger, and it is not for us to despair; but with courage to uphold the true doctrine, in spite of the world's condemnation and curse." - Luther's Commentary on Genesis 6

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Great Gulf Fixed

"Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved." - Second Vatican Council "Lumen Gentium" (14)

If Roman Catholicism is true, I'm an apostate who has rejected God's love and fellowship. I've refused the means of grace to eradicate my mortal sins, and I've torn the Church asunder by schism and heresy.


"But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned... when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel...I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing."- Galatians 2 (various)

The witness of the Reformation is to do once more what St. Paul did before St. Peter, to force the Roman Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) Church to listen to the message of the Gospel (sola gratia ; sola fide ; solo Christo).

As the Protestant observers should have replied to the council fathers of Vatican II: 'whosoever hears and rejects the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, could not be saved'

Why Protestantism? (or rather, why the Lutheran Church-Canada)

Devin Rose - a friend who has helped me in so many ways over the years, asked me a fair question.

If Roman Catholicism is not the true religion, how do you know your 'brand' of Protestantism is correct?

1. Rationalist Assumptions of Roman Catholicism

Like every argument for Roman Catholicism, this one begins with pure reason (which Kant despised so much). It assumes that divine revelation devolves naturally to arguments about divine revelation. It assumes that Aristotle's account of logic is the only account of logic, and that human nature is essentially Aristotelian.

What if Aristotle was wrong (as the Church Fathers thought he was)?

How would you disprove Roman Catholicism in a way that was satisfactory to them? Admittedly, you'd have to use Aristotelian logic.

For instance, Kant and (Lord) Russell, both ripped apart the 5 'proofs' for God's existence using empirical epistemology / analytic philosophy. What is RC's reply? Wrong logic. You started with the wrong rules. I might ask, who says we have to start with your rules?

So what I did, and what the Church Fathers did, was use the logic of a system against itself. With my concupiscence/consubstantiation argument, I used Thomism to show the why Trent was wrong.

Were I to then come up with a system based on the same epistemology, I'd have contradicted myself! Because the Roman Catholic claim is circular reasoning: logic is what we say it is, and this is logically demonstrable.

Protestantism says something quite different in it's epistemology.

Protestantism begins with God. God (as St. Anselm and Descartes understood him) was: that Being, a greater than which, cannot be conceived.

So we are presented with the Revelation of God's Word to Moses, through Jesus. How do we decide if this Word is true or not? If we require a rational argument to demonstrate it's truth (which Aristotelianism would have us do), then we aren't actually saying there is truth inherent in the Word. It's just a really good human philosophy, using allegedly divine sources.

By contrast God's Word is a pre-rational revelation that is necessarily self-referential, and circular. God says it, and it's authoritative because God says it. It can only be accepted or rejected. In any case, there's no way to falsify the claims of God about Himself, we can't know. We either trust, or reason.

In short: the epistemological authority of God's Word is greater than the epistemological authority of any argument about his Word.

2. Only Two Traditions

Again, retaining their rationalism, Roman Catholicism asserts that there are 22 000 Christian 'churches' all claiming to have 'the true religion', let alone Islam and Hinduism. Without reason, how can we judge which claims are best.

First of all, when we're judging claims outside of Christianity, we can certainly use philosophy and reason to undermine these things. (That's why Tertullian used Stoic philosophy to undermine the Stoics, but didn't adopt it in his theology.)

Secondly, there are hardly 22 or 25 k denominations. Likewise, Protestantism follows none of the rules Roman Catholicism does, regarding a communion. For RCs, a church is a communion. For Protestants a church is a confession. There are only really two confessions or Traditions in what I would identify historically as 'catholic Protestantism'. These are Reformed Theology and Lutheran Theology.

Also, it's important to note that both of these confessions acknowledge that the other teaches the saving gospel of justification by faith alone, which in the end is -at least existentially/salvifically- all that matters. So it's not even a necessary issue of 'which is right' (without being too latitudinarian), as any Christian who trusts in God's grace will be saved.

Furthermore as we've seen via Protestant epistemology, the only way to 'internally undermine' things (as I did for Roman Catholicism), as by making Scriptural arguments against them.

In the same way that Roman Catholics are fine having the Pope alone know the true interpretation of Scripture, they seem quite upset that Protestant confessions ultimately confess that their church has the most correct doctrine.

It must also be remembered the numbers have nothing to do with who has 'the true church', as at many times (Noah, Judah, St. Paul, St. Athanasius) the true church was a minority faction.

3. Inherently Humanist Implications in the Question

Next the RC apologist would revert to their argument that God didn't reveal himself properly in his Word, as it's easy if not obligatory to misunderstand it without the Pope (Magisterium and Church can easily be conflated to the Petrine office).

In the same way we saw Papal Infallibility as a de facto denial of the Inspiration of Scripture, we see here the de facto denial of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in two ways. First, it denies that the individual can actually be inspired by the Holy Spirit to be led into the truth. Secondly it denies that there is truly any difference which the Holy Spirit makes when reading the bible. (This is the rationalistic and pelagian understanding, coupled with an intellectually centred faith, that rejects grace alone or even de facto grace in the believer operating at all)

The individual Christian reading God's revelation with the illumination of the Holy Spirit and the rest of scripture to compare a passage to? Rubbish they say.


How do I know that the Lutheran Church-Canada is either: the, or a, true church? First of all, it doesn't matter, because ecclesiastical membership is not a salvific issue. Salvation is the work of the regenerating Spirit of Christ, not church bodies. Secondly, when I accept God's Revelation as true (because he could swear by no one greater than himself Hb. 6:13), and am illuminated by the Holy Spirit, I conclude that the gospel of the Augsburg Confession, was the gospel of Christ.

In short, to require any extra-revelatory verification of either God's existence or the validity of his Revelation would be blasphemy.

*note* This is the primary reasoning and epistemological defense of Protestantism/Confessional Lutheranism. There are other arguments in its defense, such as an argument from Patristics or Church History, but these are not what establishes the fundamental truth. They are secondary arguments in both the general apologetic discourse, and importance generally.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How The Roman Church Masters the Scriptures

As a previous commenter jcrng (I think I know who this is, my old Deli co-worker) made the point, any Catholic (*read Roman Catholic) would agree that Scripture is inspired and authoritative in and of itself without the Church's approval.

Here's how that breaks down in practice if not in theory.

Let's look at St. Paul's famous exposition of the struggle of the Christian life in Romans 7:20 "Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me."

How should this be interpretted?

Well in Tradition, both St. Jerome (letter 2) and St. Augustine (Nature and Grace) agree in many places that the will of the baptized Christian is not free to do good. It is free to sin or not to sin, but any good work is directly attributable to the Holy Spirit. This is because, as any plain reading of the text will tell you, St. Paul says: "sin ... dwells within me". Not concupiscence or the opportunity to sin (as the Scholastics will say), but sin. Aquinas argues in III. Q. 75, A. 2, that to use a proper noun is to signify it substantially (this is how he 'proves' transubstantiation). If this interpretive principle is applied to Rom. 7:20, this means that (Original) Sin, formally and substantially, dwells in the baptized Christian.

Simple enough, this interpretation, popular enough before Trent, suddenly leads Martin Luther et al, to say that the Christian is simul iust et peccator / at the same time righteous and a sinner.

This utterly undermines the entire system of Purgatory, Indulgences, etc., and St. Peter's still has to be built. Enter the 22 Spanish and Portugeuse bishops who somehow equal an ecumenical/universl Church council, and the Roman Church declares in Trent that: even though the apostle saith sin, the Church has never understood it to be sin proper, but concupiscence (material original sin/opportunity to sin).


So you have Scripture and Tradition in unity on the matter, and the Magisterium saying "wrong".

How is this justified.

First of all, the interpretation of the Bible is made impossible. The Church denies (in a logically circle argument referencing St. Peter's epistle) that Scripture is clear for the laity to understand. Likewise tradition (which had always been public tradition, ie. knowable and written down) suddenly becomes secret unwritten tradition passed on esoterically through the Church. In the end, the only person who can infallibly judge the matter is the Pope.

So Scripture (and less importantly Tradition) are both declared to be fundamentally incomprehensible, and only knowable through the Pope.

This means in practice that it is not the text or Scripture, or the proclaimed message it records, which holds the Truth, but the Papacy. God's revelation is thus only understandable by a secret (gnostic?) special revelation made clear by the Magisterium (presumably Magisterial pronouncements are clear and comprehensible?).

In the end this amounts to saying de facto, that Scripture is not inspired. It also amounts to saying that Tradition is not a valid way of interpretting Scripture either, because this can be confusing, and not all the sources are public or written down, some are secret - knowable and interpretable only by the Pope. In the end, this amounts to something like the inspiration of the Papacy, rather than the inspiration of Scripture, or even a reliance on Scripture interpretted by Tradition.

The Distinction Between The Word Proclaimed and the Word Recorded

"While the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life" - St. Irenaeus of Lyons (I stole this quote from Jared's blog)

"For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God." - Romans 3:2

The central argument that Roman Catholicism (hereafter referred to simply as RC) bases its epistemology upon is the claim that Sola Scriptura cannot be true because the Church wrote the Bible. Thus, where the Reformers (and as aforequoted, St. Irenaeus) said that the Gospel made the Church, Tridentine RC taught the opposite. After all, how could we know the gospel if we didn't even have the New Testament canon?

1. Ontological Pre-eminance of the Word
The problem with this state of affairs is that it immediately assumes. First of all, the New Testament is a record of the teachings of Christ, his proclaimed word, through his apostles and messengers. The epistemological point must be stressed that the written record of Scripture is true and authoritative, because it faithfully represents objective events. In other words, the authority of the scriptural passage "whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mk.16:16) rests upon the fact that Christ historically and objectively said this in history first, and that the Bible records it secondly. It is not St. Mark's authority that we trust in when we read this, it is the authority of Christ. It is not the case that St. Mark wrote these words and authored these ideas, it is the fact that they are Christ's words and ideas. In modern terms, if St. Mark wrote this phrase in an essay submitted to me, he would have had to cite it, because it wasn't his idea (and he'd better do it Chicago Style!)

This is summed up nicely in the Belgic Confession, which states: "the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God". I.E. Even if no one wrote it down, the preaching of the apostles was the Word of God in oral form. In the same way that I can hum Bach's music without reading a music note, the Gospel was known in the Church even before the canon was decided, Nay! even before the Scripture was written.

This argument may sound familiar as it was used in a different form by St. Paul against the judaizers: "the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise." (Gal. 3:17). The "promise" or the gospel which Abraham believed in, justified him (Rm 4) and existed long before a New Testament, which leads us to the next point.

2. The Gospel According To Abraham.
The Old Testament, which St. Paul reminds us, was intrusted to the Jews, is the story of Israel. Christians since the 1st century argued after St. Paul, that the Christian Church, was the True Israel. The Old Testament was a Christian book, as the apostle reminds us that all scripture speaks of Him (Christ). Isaiah 53 is a clear example of the gospel in the Old Testament. Genesis 18 was a proof-text for the Trinity.

The idea that Christians needed the Magesterium to know the Gospel or that they needed the New Testament to know the Gospel, flies in the face of all this.


For these reasons, it is wrong to say that the Church makes the Gospel. The fact that Pope Damasus oversaw a Council in Rome (382) which declared the canon of scripture, no more creates the Scripture/Gospel, than me telling my friend what I read in class, creates the book I read. It's a subversive argument that makes man the master of God's Word. The Church is ministerial, it is the servant of the Gospel, not magisterial, the master of the Gospel.

Return to Protestantism

Just when you thought I'd quietly acquiesced to papaldom, the evangelischegeist suddenly came flowing back into me. The shackles of the Law fell off, and I found myself awash once more in the unmerited grace of Christ.

I've come up with new arguments for Protestantism/against Roman Catholicism, as well as a new Barthian (tremble at the name!) epistemological argument against Thomism, or rather certain understandings of Thomism.

They are as follows:
1. The proper distinction between the proclaimed word, and the written word of Scripture.

2. An argument that Papal Infallibility and the Magesterium of the Church necessarily result in textual relativism, and a de facto denial of Scriptural Inspiration, and commit a form of gnosticism.

3. A defense of Heiko Oberman's understanding of the complex historical theology of scripture and tradition. (tradition 0, tradition 1, tradition 2, etc)

4. My old argument about how the Thomistic philosophy of language employed in III. Q. 75, A. 2 flatly contradicts the Council of Trent's doctrine of Concupiscence as Material Original Sin, AND (interestingly enough) can be used to verify Consubstantiation rather than Transubstantiation.

5. This one has to come last, because it is a rejection of the Aristotelian logic I employ in arguments 1-4., that not only does the tradition of the Church (ex. Tertullian) require us to reject Greek Philosophy as leading us to heresy, but also the Ontological Primacy of the Word, demands us to reject any theoretical basis for legitimizing Revelation. Ultimately, Revelation is necessarily self-referential and cannot be reasoned about but only either accepted or rejected.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More on Sin and Grace

"Christ grants justification to those who believe in him, simply because they have faith and not because they serve the law. The blessing granted to Abraham for his exemplary faith is extended to the Gentiles, so that we may receive the promised Spirit through faith.

In other words, the promised gift to believers is not a spirit of outward observance but one of inward devotion inspired by love." - St. Augustine's commentary on Galatians

I've been reading Bl. Cardinal Newman's daily devotional book and it is painstakingly Pelagian in its assertions and all the worst sections are from his Anglican days. Moralism is a Protestant disease that Catholics seem to love. This year, I am reading daily devotions from St. Augustine. He writes some extraordinary things about salvation and is very careful in his writings to speak alot about sin and alot about grace.

I was in the chaplaincy office yesterday and a Presbyterian who is becoming Catholic said to me that his professor described Christianity's view of the world as marred by sin, and he thought that sounded Protestant to him.


I don't think he'll ever ask my opinion again on that matter, as I thoroughly thrashed any attempts to remove Original Sin and Concupiscence from our theology. To fight Pelagianism and Total Depravity you don't try to find a middle ground between sin and grace, this is the mistake of some Jesuits and Newman (late Anglican period), rather you multiply sin and you multiply grace.

The more terribly you paint sin, the more wonderful you paint grace. The more Adam the more Christ I think. Or as the Lutherans say, the more law, the more gospel.

I've seen three different perspectives on justification in Catholic life:

1. Universalism / acceptance / Liberalism

2. "Semi-Pelagianism"(for my Reformed audience) which basically makes it sound like God brings 50% to the table and we bring 50% to the table and this synergism somehow solves the problem.

3. Augustinianism (Thank God for Pope Benedict XVI) - God gives 100%, he gives us every ounce of grace that we need for salvation. Every prayer, work, or even the desire for these things, is motivated by God, as the council of Orange declares. "What have you that you did not receive" as the apostle saith. The difference between Augustinianism and Protestantism or rather the divergence between Catholic and Protestant Augustinianism, is twofold.

Does God formally (Aristotelian Category) work this salvation, justification, and sanctification in us, or outside of us. Catholics say in, Protestants say out.

Does faith mean fiducia or fide, is it personal trust in God (will) or assent to his promises (intellect), or both.

Finally, Protestants radically diverge from Augustine on the issue of love (as we do from him on the issue of reprobation). St. Augustine clearly believed that humans do love God through the power of the Holy Spirit and that this love was tied to their faith, in a holistic turn to God and regeneration, rather than just a trust without love or without any interior transformation necessary.