Thursday, May 30, 2013

St Cyril of Jerusalem gives an example of Tradition (Were the Early Church Fathers Protestant?)

Often times Protestants ask Catholics to "define Tradition," expecting to find some long drawn out list of teachings that weren't written down in Scripture. The problem is, that's not how Tradition is understood. Rather, a better understanding of Tradition is the Church's Liturgical life, seeing the oral tradition expressed in ancient prayers of the Mass. A good example of this can be seen in St Cyril of Jerusalem's Catechetical Lectures. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Is there a link between abortion and Calvinism? (More Problems with Penal Substitution)

A famous politician made some ghastly remarks some years back when he spoke of the need for easy access to abortion since he wouldn't want to "punish his daughter with a baby" if she accidentally got pregnant. I was reminded of those remarks as I was pondering over a passage in Leviticus which spoke of the legal requirement for a woman who had recently given birth to offer a sacrifice to God. Since Protestants (particularly Calvinists) understand the Biblical sacrificial system to be a matter of transferring punishment from the sinner onto an innocent animal, this came off as suggesting that having a baby automatically merited a punishment (worthy of death, in fact) that had to be atoned for. 

The passage I had in mind was Leviticus 12:
2 If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. ... 6 And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, 7 and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. 
Clearly, at least two animals must die for what this woman did, give birth to a child. But does it make sense to think that in this situation what the woman did was sinful, especially so sinful that it warranted the death penalty? Could a baby really be a punishment, with the alternative being abortion? I suppose that twisted conclusion can be made if one espoused the theory of Penal Substitution. But clearly this conclusion (abortion) is so absurd that the premise (Penal Substitution) must be faulty. 

Really, there's no reason to think that giving birth to a child is a sin at all, and thus this 'burnt offering' and 'sin offering' must not be about punishing an 'innocent' animal in the place of the woman. And thus neither is this atonement about satisfying God's wrath by transferring it to a substitute. This means that the sacrifice and atonement must be about cleansing/expiation, making the person ceremonially clean again to be in the presence of God. This of course would 'map over' to the spiritual realm and indicate that a person's soul must be cleansed in order to be worthy to be in God's presence. 

This proper understanding would also explain the need for those with diseases or bodily discharges to make atonement, as instructed in Leviticus 14-15. Clearly having a disease or bodily discharge is not a sin, especially not a grave one. 

This is yet another good proof for why the Levitical sacrifices did not operate in a Penal Substitution framework. If you'd like to know more about the error of the Protestant doctrine of Penal Substitution, start with this link and search the blog for others.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Thoughts on Evolution

Evolution is a touchy subject, even among Catholics. Generally speaking though, traditional Catholics are against Evolution, and I'd like to talk about why I think this is so. And while Evolution can be a loose concept, I think the following 'blanket approach' is more or less fair.

The first reason is that Evolution originated as a way of explaining the origins of life from a purely atheistic-materialistic standpoint. In other words, there is a philosophy behind evolution, and that philosophy is that of atheistic materialism, the belief that everything can be explained without any reference to God. This is precisely why science is largely dominated by atheist-materialists. This isn't an accident, and it's not lost on traditionalists who are well aware about the link between bad philosophy and bad lifestyles. 

The second reason is that Evolution is taken as a secular dogmas that all are required to believe in. I use the term "dogma" on purpose, because Evolution is held as so important that if one were to even question it (even if they don't deny it), they are viciously attacked and slandered. You cannot get a job in certain fields, especially teaching on the university level, if you have any doubts about evolution. In many places, you're forced to learn it in schools, in the form they want it presented. If you deny evolution, you're slandered with the worst name calling and treated as a piece of ignorant garbage. This is taken by traditionalists as highly suspicious, since the truth doesn't need such force, and such an approach is usually a sign that some sinister agenda is taking place.

The third reason is that Evolution isn't even a specific and sturdy of a thesis, but rather contains many unanswered questions, both on the philosophical and experimental level. There aren't any specific explanations for how and why Evolution takes place, only that it must be so. There are no plain experiments that the average student can even engage in to witness evolution taking place, nor is there any way to verify astronomical numbers that are spit out by equations and instruments. When it comes to examining history, things become more and more speculative and uncertain the further you go back, and after a certain window of a few thousand years, one really cannot say much with confidence. Thus, traditionalists would view Evolution as more of a pseudo-science, masquerading as a open-and-shut case.

The fourth reason is that the Church has yet to give any stamp of approval on Evolution. The closest thing the Church has come to an official statement on Evolution is in a 60 year old Encyclical by Pope Pius XII called Humani Generis (On Human Origins), where the Magisterium said Evolution was by no means a given. All that the Pope said is that in the realm of scholarly debate, it is permissible to explore Evolution as a theory, and weigh its merits and demerits as objectively as possible (paragraph 36). In fact, Pius made it clear: "Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts." As any faithful Catholic should do, traditionalists have simply said we must carefully follow the Magisterium on this matter, and not go beyond it, especially not in the rash manner that many Catholics have done, treating evolution as a completely settled matter for Catholics. 

Some might ask: What about theistic Evolution? So called theistic Evolution teaches that God providentially guided the evolutionary process, and thus one need not be atheist to believe in evolution. This is implausible in my opinion for a variety of reasons. Recall that Evolution is founded upon the idea that what we see today came about as a result of billions of years of failed mutations and mass extinctions. Evolution teaches that fully 99.9% of every species that has ever existed has become extinct. So what does that make us? From the atheist point of view, we're a random accident, and that's the most logical thing to say given the premises. This is why so many of these men are also Nihilists, who see life as having no meaning, since we're just one (temporary) successful mutation. Given that, a theistic Evolutionist has to have the nerve to say that an all Providential God had to rely on billions of years of failed mutations and extinction of 99.9% of creation to eventually come around to His crowning achievement. As an analogy, it's as if someone wrote a massive 1000 page book and yet only the last sentence of the entire book (i.e. when man finally arrives on the scene) was relevant to the main issue (i.e. Salvation history). It really sounds quite silly, which is why those advocating theistic Evolution are never taken seriously by the atheistic science community at large. Rather, the atheistic scientific community sees these folks as poor confused and inconsistent individuals rather than robust academic thinkers. 

Solid Catholic theologians like professor Lawrence Feingold (an atheist to Catholic convert), has given a nice lecture on why he doesn't believe in Evolution (along with a Q&A session). One primary argument he gives is the fact that the way man's body is constituted, man's body is uniquely suited only for a being with the capacity of rational thought, which animals don't have. For example, man is born naked, as opposed to having something like a fur coat, because man can chose to end up living in any environment, rather than being restricted to either hot (no fur), moderate (some fur), or cold climates (a large coat of fur). Another example is man's hands, which are his primary means of survival, by which he can use to build all kinds of tools and such. The use of hands for survival only is possible for a rational being, because the being must be able to envision the concept of tools and formulate plans on how to go about achieving his desired ends. This is why man can build anything from a modest hut all the way up to a sky scraper. This would be impossible for an pre-human species that had hands but lacked the use of reason, because the animal wouldn't be able to make proper use of hands. 

On top of that, the notion that God's crowning earthly achievement was conceived in a non-human being, and was nursed and raised by that same non-human beast, is simply preposterous. It degrades everything about the fact man is superior to the animals. This is why Adam is depicted in Genesis as being created as an adult, since as a baby he would have been entirely helpless and not have reached the age of reason until at least 8 years old. So that's a huge strike against the theistic evolutionary idea that man evolved. Rather, that's a story more akin to the Jungle Book, where a human was raised by apes.
I personally am against Evolution for a variety of reasons, all encompassed above. I think Evolution gives away the farm by ceding too much ground to the atheist-materialist end, all for fear of being labeled "stupid" by the establishment. I don't mind being called stupid, but what I do mind is ceding to bad philosophy and dubious science out of fear. I think far more harm is done by blindly embracing Evolution. I think the heavy push for Evolution is akin to the heavy push to normalize homosexuality, because once it takes root in every day life, then the average citizen is radically corrupted and confused in their thought process. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Is there a New Testament Priesthood?

In an earlier article I wrote on the Protestant inability to worship God since they lack a priesthood and cannot offer sacrifice. That was mostly a philosophical argument based on Natural Law. In this article, I'd like to talk about the Biblical evidence for the New Testament Priesthood, with the goal of helping Catholics have a deeper appreciation for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 

Protestants object to the office of the New Testament Priesthood for various reasons, but their main argument against the priesthood is that they say it isn't taught in Scripture. However, the reason why they don't see evidence for it in Scripture is because they either don't know what to look for or they are so hardened that they cannot concede anything to the Catholic side. 

Many Catholics claim that the English term "priest" comes from the Greek term for "elders" in the Bible, presbuteros, and while that's probably true, I think more needs to be shown than just a name. Because of this, I'm offering the following three points to lay a solid foundation for the office of priesthood in the New Testament.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Urgent: Please Suggest Google Reader Alternatives

Now that Google Reader is shutting down in a few weeks, what will people use to follow their favorite blogs? I follow many blogs so I can keep up with what's going on in the Catholic-Protestant blogosphere, but now that Google Reader is leaving that leaves me and many others in a difficult position.

When searching this question, most of the big name techie websites are saying Feedly is the best choice for an alternative. Since Google made the announcement, a few million people went to Feedly. If that many people made the switch with little complaint, I trust that move, but are there any alternatives? Some are saying use Twitter to follow your favorite blogs, but I don't think most blogs I follow have a Twitter feed. (I've resisted getting a Twitter account for a long time, but I will if this is a good fix.) 

So the question is: why would Google shut down such a crucial tool as Reader? The official Google reason is because fewer and fewer people use Google Reader. That sounds pretty ridiculous, because there are still millions of people who like to follow blogs. It's illogical that Google would just abandon so many people when its goal is to own the market on these things. There must be more to the story. Some places have said Google is doing this to drive people to embrace Google+, but I don't see how that makes sense, because Google+ doesn't act as a reader. Others have said that Reader prevents people from visiting the actual website, which in turn doesn't allow advertisements on the site to be seen. This could be true, but then why invent Reader in the first place? After all, people will still visit the site if they want to read or comment on a specific article. So that's still not a good enough reason. 

Without Google Reader, I'm less inclined to even use Google products at all. I'd be more inclined to use Wordpress for blogging. I've never been interested in Google+, and Dropbox is more user friendly than Drive. So really the only thing left is Gmail and Google Search, but these could easily be replaced. I suspect many people feel the same way. Could the sun be setting on the Google Empire itself if it cannot "afford" to keep something like Reader alive?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why Protestants deny Intercessory Prayer

Most of the time when a Protestant criticizes a Catholic practice, the criticism is not only based on a caricature, but more noteworthy is the fact the criticism contains an unparalleled level of irony. When it comes to the subject of Intercessory Prayer, both of these elements are present. 

When I've talked to Protestants on the matter, the fundamental problem they have with Intercessory Prayer is that they envision it as living people on earth talking to unconscious people, without realizing the Protestant themself has unconsciously made the assumption that the saints in heaven must unconscious. Luther was actually more consistent here than other Protestants, since there is good reason to believe he held to something called "soul sleep," in which the soul does not go to Heaven after death but instead "sleeps" in an unconscious state at the graveyard awaiting the Resurrection. From that perspective, it makes perfect sense to say a soul that is "sleeping" and not in Heaven also cannot hear prayer, and it also makes sense at that point to deny the notion of Purgatory. But once the heretical notion of "soul sleep" is addressed, then the caricature is also addressed.

Now onto the irony behind the Protestant criticism of Intercessory Prayer. It turns out that with all the brouhaha over whether a saint in Heaven can intercede for a Christian on earth, the Protestant has failed to realize that Protestantism rejects the most important intercession of all, the Intercession of Jesus before the Father. This will be the focus of my post as I go onto explain.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The justification verses that Protestants missed.

We know that when the Bible speaks on a given subject it does not always use the same words. This means that reducing your study to only a word search for a specific term will not always give you the full picture when it comes to formulating (systematizing) your doctrines. In this post I will show that the New Testament spoke of the doctrine of Justification in passages where the term "justify" doesn't appear (and instead a synonymous term is used). I believe this data will support the Catholic understanding of Justification while greatly undermining the Protestant understanding of Justification.

First let's look at some verses that use the term "saved" in a context that are clearly speaking about getting Justified: 
  • Acts 15:9,11 is about the Gentiles accepting the Gospel and parallels “cleansed their heart by faith” to “saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.” 
  • Ephesians 2:5,8 says, “when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ” and defines this as “by grace you have been saved
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” 
  • Titus 3:5 says, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” – Paul parallels this to justification in v7 
In these Pauline passages, Paul is describing getting justified in terms of an inner transformation in the believer: cleansed, made alive, sanctified, washing of regeneration. This is astonishing if, as Protestants teach, Justification involves no change within the individual.

Now let's look at some verses that speak of "forgiveness of sins," which can only refer to the category of Justification: 
  • Acts 26:18 says “open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
  • Col 2:11ff says, “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,”
  • 1 John 1:7,9 says, “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. … If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  
These passages follow the theme of the previous set. Justification here is being described in terms of sanctification and cleansing and being made alive; all descriptions of inner transformations.

Lastly, consider texts speaking of righteousness, with this righteousness referring to Justification: 
  • Philippians 3:3, 9-11 says the “the righteousness from God that depends on faith” is to be understood as “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” 
  • 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 
These texts must be understood as speaking of something more than an external righteousness that covers us, and instead a righteousness that transforms us from within.

With this data presented, the Protestant might object by saying that these passages are speaking of Salvation in a broader sense, with Justification being a distinct subset of Salvation. The problem with this objection is that, while this could be true, it begs the question. And that objection gets to the whole point of this post: Protestants are assuming Justification means one thing, but they're deriving their understanding from traditions of men, not the Bible. This Biblical evidence does not suggest that Justification is solely forensic or that its a discrete category of Salvation as a whole, but rather that being "saved" and having "sins forgiven" and experiencing God's righteousness is tied directly to a radical inward transformation. Now when one goes onto examine the passages of Scripture that do use the term "justify," notably Romans 3-5 and Galatians 2-3, they will have to analyze these with the Biblical evidence just presented in mind. Anything else would not be systematic theology.

(This post should be read in conjunction with the last few posts I've written, going over key terms like righteousness, justify, Law, works, and impute.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Protestants are #1! (They can't be #2.)

A common rebuttal Protestants give to Catholics when accused of engaging in "Private Interpretation" of Scripture is that Catholics engage in "Private Interpretation" as of Scripture as well, particularly when it comes to a Catholic deciding for themself that the Catholic Church is the church to join. The Protestant envisions that he and the Catholic both are fallibly interpreting Scripture and each are coming to their own fallible conclusions. Given this, the Protestant sees any arguments given for submitting to Rome as not only unnecessary, but even engaging in the same fallible private judgment that Catholics clobber Protestants for doing. In short, the Protestant sees the Catholic engaging in circular reasoning and special pleading. 

When I encountered this for the zillionth time, here is the response I gave to one Protestant Blogger (slightly modified for this blog post):
The problem with that claim is there is a misunderstanding (even equivocation) going on with the term "interpret". Really, there are two distinct things going on:
(1) Studying the Evidence and coming to a fallible but plausible conclusion.

(2) Authoritatively teaching a binding doctrine, including authoritatively interpreting a text of Scripture.
Everyone must engage in category #1. That's not the issue. The issue is category #2. When it comes to addressing category #2, one must see that there either is an authoritative teaching body ("Magisterium") or there is not. If there is no Magisterium, then there are no definitive doctrines, only fallible but plausible opinions. That's basically the state of Protestantism and why fewer and fewer doctrines are seen as "essential". If there is a Magisterium, one must engage in #1 to locate and eventually submit to which Magisterium is the most credible.

Let me give an example of the problem with Protestantism. Let's say that St Paul came down from Heaven into your denomination and told your pastor that your pastor was teaching incorrect doctrines and rather your pastor should be teaching these other doctrines. In the Protestant view, your pastor could theoretically disagree with St Paul if your pastor felt Paul's comments did not align with your pastor's interpretation of Scripture. In the Protestant mind, both your pastor and St Paul were in the category #1 above: they were both fallible men doing their best to discern what the Spirit was telling them through Scripture. Neither could or were teaching authoritatively.

The problem with the above example is obviously that we know St Paul is not on par with your pastor, and in fact St Paul was entrusted by God with the role of #2 above. This means your pastor and his congregation, who are all in category #1, are not free to overturn Paul's teaching should they come to a different interpretation of the Bible. They'd be in the wrong and Paul would be in the right.

What you and other Protestants do is think that a Christian in category #1 has the (optional) duty of locating a denomination and pastor also in category #1. And since everyone is in category #1, then it's possible there could come a time when you disagree with your pastor's fallible but plausible interpretation of Scripture on a doctrine you plausibly but fallibly believe is important, and at that point you could leave to find another denomination or start your own. All the Protestant is doing is shifting between denominations of category #1, completely oblivious to or denying the existence of someone of category #2.
Unless Catholics and Protestants can differentiate and understand these two categories, they will continue to talk past eachother. The good folks at Called to Communion have written extensively about this, but I thought it should be repeated in a more concise form.