Skip to comments.Why I Returned to the Catholic Church. Part VI: The Biblical Reality
Posted on 09/06/2007 3:27:02 PM PDT by annalex
The Marian dogmas were big problems. I still thought [around 1984] the Catholic claims on Mary were outrageous. I went back and read some essays, and concluded that the Bible alone wouldn't compel acceptance of the Marian dogmas; the Bible alone wouldn't lead you to them, yet sustained theological reflection on Jesus' relationship to His mother; if you take the humanity of Jesus with the utmost seriousness, and you take Mary as a real mother, not just a "conduit," and you begin to think about motherhood and sonship, and you think about what it means to receive a body from your mother: flesh . . . God didn't make Jesus' flesh in Mary's womb; He got Mary's flesh. If God had wanted to, He could have made Jesus as He made Adam: from the dust of the earth. But He didn't. He decided He would use a human being to give Jesus His humanity. And so what kind of flesh is Jesus gonna get? If He's gonna be perfect humanity, He'd better have perfect human flesh untainted by sin. To me the Immaculate Conception, seen in that light, made sense. The Assumption also seemed to me to make a great deal of sense. There were precedents to it: Enoch and Elijah, those who rose from the dead at the time of the rending of the veil of the Temple. And if Jesus is going to give anybodye priority; if He's going to truly honor His mother and father, wouldn't He give Mary, whose flesh He received, priority in the Resurrection? So I think that's what the doctrine of the Assumption preserves. I could go on and talk forever on the distinctive doctrines of the Church.
Artificial contraception . . . Dave wanted me to go into that [I had asked a question earlier]. I had a very difficult time seeing it as good logic. The Church insists that the multiple meanings of sexual intercourse always be exercised together. Since one of the meanings is procreation and another is intimacy or the what's called the "unitive function", those things can't be separated from one another licitly. I didn't like that, because it seemed to me that if intercourse served multiple purposes, then there's no reason why, at any particular time, one purpose ought to retain priority or even exclusivity in the exercise of that act. They were both good. I think that the change came when I finally hit upon an analogy; I had to see another human act in which multiple meanings had to be exercised together, and not separately. And I thought of eating food. Food serves multiple purposes: nutrition, secondly, pleasing our senses. God likes tastes; that's why He gave us taste buds. He wants food to taste good. What do we think of a person who says, "I really like the taste of food, so I'm going to disconnect my eating of food from nutrition, and I'm just gonna taste it." Well, we call him a glutton; we call him a "junk food junkie." What do we call a person who says, "I don't care about what food tastes like; I'm just gonna eat for nutrition's sake." We call him a prude or we have some other name for him. We think that they're lacking in their humanity. That helped me in understanding sexual intercourse. I think it's sinful just to eat for the taste, or merely for the nutrition, because you're denying the pleasure that God intended for you to receive, in eating good food. I say the same thing with sexual intercourse. You're sinful if you separate the multiple meanings of it. If you procreate simply to make babies, and you don't enjoy the other person as a person, I think that's sinful, and I think that if you merely enjoy sexual intimacy and pleasure, and are not open to sharing that with a third life: a potential child, then you're denying the meaning of sexual expression. That was a continuing realization that the Catholic Church had been there before me.
When I learned that you [me] were interested in the Catholic Church, it was kind of funny, because by that time I had been pursuing this on my own, and feeling like I was a little bit odd. So it was good for me, . . . I was their pastor for a while at Shalom, and Dave and Judy and Sally and I have known each other for many years, and I've always liked Dave and Judy. We've had some disagreements at times over the years, and a little bit of even, "combat," but I always was fond of them, because I always recognized them as people who were willing to live out their convictions, and that always means a lot to me. I like to be surrounded by people like that because it's very easy to just live in your head and not get it out onto your feet. So I knew that they were committed to living a Christian life. They were interested in simple living, and interested in alternate lifestyle. They saw themselves as being radical Christians. And I always liked that. So even when we disagreed, I was always fond of them, in that I respected what they were doing. So it was heartening to me, to find that my return to the Church was in its own way being paralleled by Dave's acceptance of Roman Catholicism. It was a queer parallelism. When we went to see Fr. John Hardon that night, I thought it was interesting and odd that you were doing it, but I told you that night: "it seems to me there are only two choices: either Orthodoxy or Catholicism." It was reassuring. I met Catholics through rescue that I actually liked, and that was heartening.
I returned to the Catholic Church, because, for all its shortcomings (which are obvious to many evangelicals), both evangelicalism and Catholicism suffered from the same kind of "immoral equivalency." All the things that I once thought were uniquely bad about Catholicism, I also saw in Protestantism, so it was kind of a wash. I stopped asking myself all the so-called practical questions, and made the decision based on theology alone. That way I got to compare theology with theology. People love to compare the practice of one group with the theology of another. So you end up with the theology of a John Calvin versus the practice of some babushka'd Catholic woman. And it's just not fair. You gotta compare apples with apples. Evangelicals tolerate pentecostal superstition and fundamentalist ignorance, without breaking fellowship. So why criticize the Catholics for tolerating some superstition and ignorance? Evangelical churches are largely made up of small, dead, ineffectual fellowships. Two-, three-generation fellowships that have lost their reason for existence, and they just keep rollin' along. The vast percentage of evangelical churches are about 75 people. And they're not doin' much. So what's the problem if Catholic churches are full of dead people too? It's a wash. Evangelicals tolerate and even respond positively to papal figures like Bill Gothard, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, and men whose teachings or decisions explicitly or implicitly sets the tone of the discussion and suggests and insists upon right conclusions. And these men are not just popular leaders, they are populist leaders. In other words, they often appeal to the anti-intellectual side of the uneducated. They stir up resentments between factions in the Church Politic and the Body Politic. The pope, on the other hand, is not a populist leader. You don't see the pope, in the encyclicals I've read, taking cheap shots, driving wedges between the intelligentsia and the masses; you don't see them doing cheap rhetorical tricks, like you do find among popular evangelical leaders. If the pope plays his audience, it's usually through acts of piety. He's not trying to stir up resentments.
Evangelicals are currently seeking more sense of community and international community, more accountability -- you hear more talk about confessing your sins to one another; they're looking for a way to justify the canon, visible signs of unity. Catholicism has all these things. It offers them already. And then of course evangelicals seem only to be able to preserve doctrinal purity by separating, dividing, and splitting and rupturing the unity of Christ. That's their method for maintaining the truth: divide. And that to me is the devil's tactic: "go ahead, divide 'em; it's easier to conquer them that way." Even in the area of their strength (the Bible), evangelicals are not without serious shortcomings. Matthew 16 is a great example of that. What's worse?: to omit clear biblical teaching, or to add to it? Evangelicals omit fundamental biblical teaching about Peter as the rock, about the apostolic privilege of forgiving or retaining sins. These things are not unclear. They're only unclear in the Scripture if you've adopted a certain type of theology, and then you have to dance around, doing hermeneutical gymnastics to avoid the clear intention of the verse. The binding and loosing passages in Matthew 16 and 18 are as plain as the nose on your face.
So I returned to the Catholic Church because I am absolutely convinced that the Roman Catholic Church preserves and retains (for all its shortcomings) the biblical shape of reality. It retains sacramental awareness, human mediation (which is a very prominent biblical theme which has been lost in evangelical churches), a sense of the sacred, which is present in the Scripture; and recognizes typology as having not only symbolic value, or pedagogical value, but also ontological value. It retains memorial consciousness and corporate personality, the idea of federal headship, doctrinal development. All of these things are lectures in and of themselves. But these things that people always wanna talk about (purgatory, saints, Mary), all fit into those categories. The structure of biblical reality is more present in Catholicism than any other tradition that I'm familiar with. And I'm really quite convinced that I don't have extravagant expectations, either. I think these things are really there. It's not a pipe dream.
[someone asked, "why not Orthodoxy?"]
Competing jurisdictions, which basically told me, "you need a pope." If the point is that you need a visible display of unity for the work of evangelism to have lasting success, how can you have the Russians and the Greeks fighting with one another all the time? I know conservatives and liberals fight in the Catholic Church, but it's structured in such a way as to be able to end the debate at some point. God acts infallibly through the papacy. The discussion can be settled. It can't be settled in Orthodoxy at this point. They're always fighting over jurisdictions. The laxity on divorce . . . I heard a saying recently that "your doctrine of ecclesiology will affect your doctrine of marriage, or vice versa." If you believe in divorce, then you believe in the Reformation, because you believe that Christ will divorce part of His Body. If you believe that the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church, is indivisible, then you will believe that (among Christians, anyway) marriage is indivisible. There should be no divorce. And I think that the Orthodox are lax in that area. I think that they're too ethnic - that's probably due to a type of caesaropapism, and that their views of culture don't seem to work out very well. Those are some of the reasons. Also, it just wasn't around. Where do you go? You have to work too hard to find a place, and then you have to worry about whether they'll do it in English. I went to St. Suzanne's first of all because it was around the corner, and I believe that geography has a lot to do with community.
[I asked, "what was the very last thing that put you over the edge?"]
It was very incremental. Instead of their being one moment of decisive realization, there were moments of little pinpricks of light along the way. In one sense I crossed the line when I heard Fr. Stravinskas describing the Mass as a re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice, and I realized that the worldview that he was presenting was the worldview that I had believed for a long time, but had not been able to articulate. But I didn't know where to go from there. I think it was the same day that that happened, the one man who had been most influential on my thinking on the relationship between religion and culture during the 1980s, Richard John Neuhaus, announced that he had become a Catholic. I said, "oh my God!" His book, The Naked Public Square, really shaped my thinking on the relationship between religion and public life.
And another one would be the Scott Hahn tapes on Mary. What Scott did for me was, he managed to draw enough suggestive biblical material, that my ideas of development now could be fed from the Scripture. You have to understand that the Marian dogmas just seemed excessive. It's not that I had any intrinsic hostility to them. I thought they were kind of nice in their own way. But I didn't see the biblical precedent to it. He gave me enough biblical material to ignite a spark of hope about them, and then when I began reading the theology on them, I said, "I can receive this now." We're talking months.
I remember now: I needed reassurance. I'd forgotten all about this. What was on my mind was the work of the kingdom, and whether I could be as effective within the Catholic Church, as I could be in the Protestant church. I hadn't nailed down everything about Catholicism, but I recognized that the shape of Catholicism was a lot closer to the Bible, than a lot of what I was seeing in Protestantism. But practically speaking, you don't see Catholic evangelists out there very much. It came down to this: what justified staying apart? "What reason do I have for not being there?"
Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that we think we have MORE of the truth? We don't have the WHOLE truth, that's fer shur. And we don't think the others have NO truth.
Excellent series! Thank you for posting it.
But ... but ... I AM white bread! (Okay, if you overlook my Jewish great grandfather ....)
What I'm seeing as a nouveau Catholic is that the ethnic parishes, at least in the boonies or where Catholicism and the local populace have been overwhelmed by migrations, are no longer so ethnic. In my parish the mix is amazing. We have an international food festival thing and there is Korean, Vietnamese, Fillipino, English (white bread?) (Yes, the English HAVE been known to cook)(rarely), French, EYEtalian, and more.
Personaly I have a real problem with a church that won't help me get thin, but that's another issue.
On the other hand we do have in the Diocese of Richmond a specifically Vietnamese parish., so it's not a slam dunk either way.
The Bible is indeed the Word of God, but you only know that because the Catholic Church told you so. How do you know what books should be in the Bible when the Bible doesn't tell you? You only know it because the Catholic Church definitively declared the Bible canon at the end of the fourth century.
If the Bible canon is necessary for our salvation, but Christ did not reveal it to His apostles, then Christ must have established an authority that would guarantee the early Christians' determination of the Bible canon after He ascended into heaven. This authority is the Holy Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church wrote, translated, copied, and preserved God's written word throughout the ages. That is the only reason you even have a Bible.
that’s not the point.
Oh good! Then I can eliminate a whole bunch o' stuff. A clean miss is almost always helpful.
But please tell me WHAT's not the point? How did I miss it, and what IS the point?
(Missing the point is one of my, ah, gifts.)
Having grown up Protestant, one of my biggest problems with it is that its structure leads to a very shallow knowledge of its faith by its members. I know a great many who distinguish themselves as “Bible believers”, and who could recite many a passage, but do not dwell on the messages contained therein.
That’s one of the great effects of standardized prayers such as the Rosary, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. So many have castigated them as merely repetition without meaning, but in actuality, one cannot help but to reflect on their depth of meaning as one learns their use and utility over time.
Back to being a “Bible Believer”, I never know whether to be shocked or amused when I hear that used as opposition to Catholicism. As you said NYer, just where do they think their Bible came from?
. . . but nobody wants to eat it.
We would have starved to death in London if it hadn't been for Indian and Chinese restaurants . . . and McDonald's. Which just goes to show you how bad English cooking is, that we voluntarily ate Macky-D's!
The Catholic Church does not build mosques, — what are you talking about?
Pope John Paul II chose to kiss the Koran presented to him. It was an act of courtesy, generally expected of a diplomat. He liked kissing things: he also kissed the ground wherever he went. Whatever you think of his actions, — I personally think he should have found a polite way not to kiss that book — this is his action as an individual and not an instruction to us to go and kiss the nearest Koran. Should we, given that he is our Holy Father, imitate him? There is no obligation on Catholics to do so any more that we should imitate his skiing style or Polish accent. The fact that he was polite to the Muslim we should probably imitate, especially if they mean good and give us expensive presents. I was recently given an extra yoghurt with my kebob in an Afghani meat shop. I remembered the Holy Father kissing the Koran and said “Thank you very much, Sir”. I then ate the yoghurt. The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church spoke through me that asfternoon to the infidels.
Some folks seem to confuse the Founder with the Foundation.
Wow! Trifle for dessert! Nirvana!
This is not what Al is talking about. What he probably meant is that some Catholics for sure do superstitious things and are ignorant of what their church teaches. The things you enumerated are indeed parts of Catholicism, and as such are to be understood and followed. But they are not superstitions.
The numerous titles of the pope are simply custom. Nothing mysterious or supernatural attaches to them. If you have a question about a specific title, I can try and answer your question.
The Marian dogmas and the veneration of saints are all the belief system of the early Church, whether they have a direct scriptural prooftext or not. They certainly all make scriptural sense. If you have a specific question, again, I will try to answer, or you can educate yourself using the Internet or your local parish as a resource.
The priesthood is quite simply scriptural. Christ sent his apostles to give the Eucharist and educate; they sent others and still do. When an unconsecrated person attempts to imitate a priest, then that is superstition and bad things happen, scripture tells us (Acts 19:13-16).
Human tradition has some place in the discourse, but human tradition must be judged by God's Word, and not the inverse.
Now this is superstition. Where did you get that from? Please see On Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition
Now, where is it we go to resolve a dispute over interpretation?
The question though is not what ‘others’ do in the face of ‘superstition and ignorance’, but what we as followers of Christ are called to do.
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Ti 4:2)
I would also echo the injunction in 1 Cor and Eph here to do so 'with love'.
As to what constitutes ‘superstition and ignorance’, in this sense my meaning is that which is not supported by clear scriptural antecedents and which is built upon the (often well meaning) traditions of men.
Your comment on birth control is an interesting one, as it raises an issue that's been on my mind lately. If you like, this can be considered a 'superstition' by my definition, as the scriptural support for it is weak at best. Such things though have much broader theological implications.
Are we saying that the God of Abraham and Isaac, the Great I Am, for whom nothing is impossible... can have His will thwarted by a few microns of latex? Are we saying that sexual intercourse within a lawful marriage is not meant to be joyful and physical? Are we saying that Christ, who is the fulfillment of the Law, needs to have a new law created by man (though the RC would argue it is by God though His vicar upon earth... yet did Christ come to fulfill the law so that His 'vicar' could reestablish it?)?
My comment of priests was not a denigration of the need for leadership, order, and authority within the church (we are to be a people in submission to governing authorities, and most of all to be a people in willing and loving submission to an all sufficient God), rather it was a critique of all churches where a priesthood has arisen which sets itself up (whether willfully or not) as a mediator between God and man. This does not even address the question of priest acting as alter Christos in persona Christi
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Ti 2:5)
There well may be elements of RC understanding of priesthood with which I'm unfamiliar. If there are any points which you believe are germane, please bring them to my attention.
Agreed that there are some traditions that are given to us from God, yet we need to teach them clearly so that they are obeyed not just in physical action, but in full spirit and in truth.
His peace be with you.
How many guesses do I get? ;-)
Uh, The 700 Club?
No, I know! Mother Angelica.
Breathes there a man with so little gracePope, schmope! It's the thought of her brandishing a ruler that brings me in line and shuts me up!
That he'd dare disagree with her to her face?
I am working toward becoming a lay Dominican, so the notion of preaching in season and out of season (and even with love, but only if absolutely necessary ;-) ) is like mother milk to me -- or something like that. No argument there.
my meaning is that which is not supported by clear scriptural antecedents and which is built upon the (often well meaning) traditions of men.
Well, "clear" is where the conversation hinges, isn't it?
Let me take as an example something to which this guy refers, though he treats it slightly differently from the way I do.
If you think about what a good son wants for his mother, and if you think that Jesus was the perfect Son, you have not left behind anything that is clearly in Scripture, right? And if you think what happened when the woman with the issue of blood touched just His clothing, and when people touched the fringes of his clothes, AND you think that a mother touches and is touched by her child in the most intimate and immediate manner imaginable, you are still within the bounds of Scripture. What good son does not want to give to his mother all he can give?
I am not seeking to persuade you of Marian dogmas. My goal is humbler, namely: to say that it is precisely in contemplation of Scripture that those dogmas arise.
Okay, YOUR comment on what is amusingly referred to as 'ABC' (Artificial Birth Control) gets MY attention! It was throughout Christianity condemned until the 1930 Lambeth Conference of the C of E made the first crack in the wall. It may be "merely" a tradition but it was pretty widely observed, as much by Sola Scriptura types as by anyone. That's not dispositive either way, but it's worth considering.
Further, when one thinks about "witchcraft" in a pre-scientific age, specifically a pre-medical science age, what are the kinds of things one might go to a sorcerer for as a matter of regular affairs. (Checked your junk mail lately?) Abortifacients and contraceptives would, I think, be almost a main seller in the armamentarium of the little herbs and potions mixer and vendor down the street. The word translated by many as "sorcery" in Gal 5:20 is ...
pharmakeia, as in pharmacy.
(Gad! Maybe the Christian Scientists are right!) (Get a hold of yourself, Mad Dawg!)
So again, it's closer to what's right there "in the Bobble!" (as we used to say at Seminary) than you might think at first, or even second, glance.
To your series of questions I would say, "No." AS to specifics:
Did you read the guy's discussion of ABC? I thought it wasn't bad. And one thing about NFP (Natural Family Planning) is that it makes sexual intercourse deliberate and solemn, which does not contradict "joyful". (I didn't get the "physical" part of the question. How else you gonna do sex?)
As to the "new law" question, I guess I don't get that either. There are still morals after Pentecost. A great many things may now be "lawful" but there are still things that are "unedifying". And a gluttonous approach to sexual intercourse is, I think, disintegrative of persons. Our will should lead and our body follow. To the extent that the body leads, our will is either not involved or overwhelmed. And on a practical level, since sexual desire is often different in the parties to a marriage, one thing that ABC does (I hear from women I have counselled or discussed it with) is make it harder for the wife to turn aside the husbands importunacies. One person agreed that she was more or less thinking, "Okay, this'll take another 10 or 15 minutes, and then I can get back to my book." Does such a thing make for good marriages or even good sex?
As somebody else has already said, we Catholics find mediators everywhere -- even though some of us have read I Tim 2:5. It is in Christ and His Spirit, we would say, that we all are mediators for one another and even for those outside the Faith. "Kings and priests to God" all of us. The priesthood of the, uh, priesthood is kind of a special case of that. (I could be wrong on this aspect of it - I mean wrong about our teaching -- the whole conversaiton must presume I could be wrong altogether.) AS you wish me peace, you are mediating, and as I wish you peace I am ditto, as I see it. But it is because we are in Christ that we can do that.
That's got to be enough for a start. We're going to start writing encyclopedias to one another!
For the average catholic, praying the rosary is rote prayer - if and when they do it. It took a minor catastrophe to jolt me into praying the Rosary on a daily basis; it is now my constant companion.
While preparing 11th graders for the Sacrament of Confirmation, I introduced them to meditative and contemplative prayer. They truly enjoyed that. Personally, I try to start my day with the Prayers of Safro (Morning) of the Maronite Divine Office. These are so beautiful!
I wasn't saying anything about English home cooking, there is good food to be had among friends and relatives, so long as they're not of the "boil the vegetables to mush, don't season anything, and make sure the meat is tough" school.
It's the restaurant and pub food that's inedible. Even Dr. Samuel Johnson (who thought dining at his favorite tavern was as close to heaven on earth as one could get) warned that "the safest dish in an English tavern is a fowl."