Monday, December 14, 2009

Apostolic Fathers: Chapter 8

Polycarp Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Holy Martyr

One of the more famous individuals from the close of the apostolic era was the man tradition remembers as "Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Holy Martyr.” Polycarp was born around 69-70 A.D. According to St. Irenaeus, Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Apostle and was personally appointed by Apostles as the bishop of the church in Smyrna (modern day Turkey). St. Polycarp was the leading figure among the churches in Asia in the mid second century. The Martyrdom of Polycarp records that Bishop Polycarp served faithfully for eighty-six years (Mart Pol 9.3) before being heroically martyred on February 23, 155.

Because of his long life and direct connection to the Apostles he was an important defender of orthodoxy against such heretics as Marcion and Valentinus. St. Irenaeus recounts that he knew Polycarp from his childhood, and he revered him as a holy saint. Irenaeus notes, “I can even describe the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit and discourse-his going out, too, and his coming in-his general mode of life and personal appearance, together with the discourses which he delivered to the people; also how he would speak of his familiar intercourse with John, and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord.” He recalls the story of Marcion coming to Polycarp and asking if Polycarp would recognize him. Polycarp replies, “Of course I recognize you, the first born of Satan!” (Adv Haer 3,3,4).

St. Irenaeus relates how St. Polycarp journeyed Rome around 150-155 A.D. A dispute had arisen over the date of Easter between the church in Asia and the Church in the West. Polycarp met with Pope Anicetus. Each bishop felt obliged to follow the traditions they had been handed down. Polycarp felt Easter should be celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish lunar month of Nisan, while Anicetus on the Sunday after the 14th of Nisan. Polycarp appealed to the practice of St. John and the Apostles, while Anicetus to the custom of his predecessors and to dominical usage. Although the Pope and bishop Polycarp could not achieve common ground in their practice they remained in communion and parted on the best of terms. While there could be no tolerance of the heretical views of Marcion or the early Gnostics, the Church could embrace different liturgical traditions.

St Irenaeus tells us that Bishop Polycarp wrote a number of letters “to neighboring Churches to confirm them, or to certain of the brethren, admonishing and exhorting them.” Unfortunately only St. Polycarp’s letter addressed to the Philippians remains. The theme of the letter is summed up in Polycarp’s exhortation, “‘Therefore prepare for action and serve God in fear’(1 Pet. 1:13; cf. Ps. 2:11) and truth, leaving behind the empty and meaningless talk and the error of the crowd” (Pol Phil 2.1). The letter is a rousing call to live the Christian life fully and consistently in the midst of the confusion and temptations of the world. The letter is filled with quotations from the New Testament and St. Clement’s letter to the Corinthians. One can clearly see the “interwovenness” of Sacred Tradition in his letter. The living interpretive presence of Christ is expressed in the Church through his apostolic ministry. Polycarp notes, “For I am convinced that you are all well trained in the sacred Scriptures” (Pol Phil 12.1). Scripture is the center of the Church’s Tradition and it is made manifest in the preaching, teaching, doctrine and liturgy of the Church.

The Church in Philippi is again battling the heresy of docetism which denies that Jesus came in the flesh. Polycarp complains that these heretics twist “the sayings of the Lord to suit their own sinful desires” (Pol Phil 7.1). Sacred Scripture requires the interpretive presence of the Church. Knowing our faith well also helps us to live our faith in the midst of our daily life. One difficult distraction that Polycarp mentions is greed and the love of money (Pol Phil 2.1; 4.1; 5.2; 6.1; and 11.1). This was apparently the difficulty of a fallen away presbyter of the Church in Philippi named Valens (Pol Phil 11.1-4). Polycarp councils the Philippians to treat Valens kindly in hopes of winning him back from his waywardness.

The ultimate test of a disciple’s faithfulness is martyrdom. Polycarp’s martyrdom is recounted in detail in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (AD 156). This document is a combination of a letter and an act of martyrdom or eyewitness account of martyrdom (Cf. Acts 7, Revelation 6:9-11). The account of Polycarp’s death is the first full account of this type. Suffering death by Martyrdom was considered the ultimate imitation of Christ. The ‘baptism of blood’ of the martyr was considered the equivalent of normal Baptism. Since at least the second century the anniversary of the martyr’s death was celebrated with a feast at the tomb of the martyr and later churches were built over these tombs. The martyrs were venerated as powerful intercessors and their relics were sought after. St. Polycarp’s death is extremely heroic. The witnesses record, “Then the materials prepared for the pyre were placed around him; and as they were also about to nail him, he said: ‘Leave me as I am; for he who enables me to endure the fire will also enable me to remain on the pyre without moving, even without the sense of security which you get from the nails.’” (Mart Pol 12.3). The fire was miraculously unable to kill Polycarp, so his executioner had to stab him with a dagger. His body was later cremated by the soldiers and his friends gather up his bones and began to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.

Holy Mary, Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers

Roma-Jan-05-013 I have written a series of articles for the Catholic Key Newspaper in Kansas City , Mo.

The following is a list of posts on this theme so far.
Apostolic Fathers Chapter 1

  • Like Father, Like Son
Apostolic Fathers Chapter 2
Apostolic Fathers Chapter 3

  • St. Clement of Rome
Apostolic Fathers Chapter 4

  • The Didache
Apostolic Fathers Chapter 5

  • The Didache (cont.)
Apostolic Fathers Chapter 6

  • St. Ignatius of Antioch
Apostolic Fathers Chapter 7

  • St. Ignatius of Antioch (cont.)
Apostolic Fathers Chapter 8
  • Polycarp

Friday, December 4, 2009

Apostolic Fathers Chapter 7

St. Ignatius of Antioch (Part II)

As mentioned previously, St. Ignatius was condemned to death during the reign of the Emperor Trajan. His writings give us a unique glimpse of the life and beliefs of the Church at the close of the first century. In his writings we are still very close to Christ and his Apostles. Can we see the face of Jesus reflected in his writings?

St. Ignatius, in his letter to the Philadelphians, speaks of the unity we share through our fellowship or communion through the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the focus of the oneness we profess in the creed. It is a sacramental sign of this unity. St. Ignatius writes;

"Take care, therefore, to participate in one Eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup which leads to unity through his blood; there is one altar, just as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow servants), in order that whatever you do, you do in accordance with God" (Ignatius to the Philadelphians 4.1).

Later in his letter to the Smyrnaeans, St Ignatius addresses a problem with the heresy of docetism. Although not a unified movement, the early Christians had to correct the tendency among some early Christians to consider the humanity and sufferings of the earthly Christ as merely apparent rather than real. St. Ignatius links this belief to a very low regard for the Eucharist. He notes;

"They abstain from Eucharist and prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ who suffered for our sins, which the Father raised up by his goodness. They then who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes; but it were better for them to have love, that they also may attain to the Resurrection" (Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 6.2). Seeing the face of Jesus clearly in the face of the early Church allows one to profess as well our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Earlier in his letter to the Ephesians, St. Ignatius refers to the Eucharist as "the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ" (Ignatius to the Ephesians 20.2).

Our unity focuses not just on the Eucharist by also on the Bishop. St. Ignatius writes;

"You must all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and follow the presbytery as you would the apostles; respect the deacons as the commandment of God. Let no one do anything that has to do with the church without the bishop. Only that Eucharist which is under the authority of the bishop (or whomever he himself designates) is to be considered valid. (2) Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permissible either to baptize or to hold a love feast without the bishop." (Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans 8.1-2)

This passage highlights the role of the bishop in preserving the unity of the Church. In numerous other passages St. Ignatius emphasizes a divine hierarchy of the bishop, presbyters, and deacons. The Catechism reminds us that the bishop is the "guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church" (CCC 1292). The Eucharist is celebrated under the authority or presidency of the bishop. The Catechism notes, "The bishop of the place is always responsible for the Eucharist, even when a priest presides; the bishop's name is mentioned to signify his presidency over the particular Church" (CCC 1369). St. Ignatius observes that only the Eucharist which is under the authority of the bishop is valid. It is not permissible to hold an agape feast without the authority of the bishop.

St. Ignatius is also the first Church Father to use the word "catholic." Scholars will dispute whether it is appropriate to capitalize the word as "Catholic." Generally the basic meaning of 'catholic' is taken as the universal Church as opposed to the local church. William Schoedel has pointed out that studies of the original Greek word for 'catholic' make it unlikely that it refers to geographic extension, or universal as opposed to local. In the context of St. Ignatius the meaning of 'catholic' is more likely a reference to an organic unity under the bishop which parallels the universal church is an organic unity under Christ. Schoedel observes, "Thus we may say that the 'catholic' church here is not the universal church opposed to heresy, but the whole church resistant by its very nature to division." Later the unity of the Church reflected in the whole allowed the Church to call herself 'Catholic' in the sense of the fullness of unity in distinction to heresy and in her mission for geographic extension to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20). The Catechism notes that "the word 'catholic' means 'universal,' in the sense of 'according to the totality' or 'in keeping with the whole.' There is a double sense in which the Church is 'catholic'. The Church is 'catholic' because Christ is present in her (giving her correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession) and secondly because "she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race" (CCC 830-831).

We can see the face of Jesus in the community reflected in the letters of St. Ignatius. As Pope Benedict has recently noted, "In Christ, charity and truth becomes the Face of his Person, a vocation for us to love our brothers and sisters in the truth of his plan" (Caritas in Veritate, 1). Just as St. Ignatius answered those who thought Jesus only seemed to be flesh, today we must constantly dialogue with a dictatorship of untruth and the mere appearance of human opinion rather than a truth based in the person of Christ. Holy Mary, Seat of Wisdom, Pray for us.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Apostolic Fathers Chapter 6

St. Ignatius of Antioch

The Fourth century church historian Eusebius tells us that St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch was condemned to die in Rome by becoming "food for wild beasts on account of his testimony to Christ" (Ecc. Hist 3, 36). St. Ignatius was condemned during the reign of the Emperor Trajan (107 A.D.). He was transported "under the strictest military surveillance" which he recounts as "being bound amidst ten leopards that is, a company of soldiers who only become worse when they are well treated." Ignatius was taken as far as Smyrna where he was greeted by Polycarp the local bishop. From Smyrna Ignatius writes letters to four local churches. He writes to Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey), and to the neighboring cities of Magnesia, Tralles and Rome. Ignatius is then taken to Troas in the north-west corner of Asia. From Troas he wrote letters to the Philadelphians, to the Smyrnaeans and to Bishop Polycarp.

I would like to begin this reflection by focusing on Ignatius' letter to the Ephesians. In this letter he highlights the role of the bishop as a source of unity in the Church. He writese writ, "Thus it is proper for you to act together in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as you are in fact doing. For your presbytery, which is worthy of its name and worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop as strings to a lyre. Therefore in your unanimity and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung." (Ignatius to the Ephesians 4:1). Later he adds a warning to those who might attempt to act without a bishop, "Let no one be misled: if anyone is not within the sanctuary, he lacks the bread of God. . . Therefore whoever does not meet with the congregation thereby demonstrates his arrogance and has separated himself . . .  Let us, therefore, be careful not to oppose the bishop, in order that we may be obedient to God. (Ignatius to the Ephesians 5:1-3).

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Ignatius addresses the intriguing question of why Jesus allowed himself to be baptized by John the Baptist?"  Recently Pope Benedict XVI has reflected on this question in his work Jesus of Nazareth. He observes,

"Baptism itself was a confession of sins and the attempt to put off an old, failed life and to receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could do? How could he confess sins? How could he separate himself from his previous life in order to start a new one?" (p. 16-17).

The answer on one level is that Jesus did this to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). Pope Benedict notes, "Righteousness is man's answer to the Torah, acceptance of the whole of God's will, the bearing of the "yoke of God's Kingdom." (Jesus, p. 17). St. Ignatius addresses this question by recounting a primitive confession of the Church, "For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God's plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit. He was born and was baptized in order that by his suffering he might cleanse the water" (Ignatius to the Ephesians 18:2). St. Ignatius affirms that Jesus was baptized in order to "cleanse the water." In the Eastern Church the Feast of Epiphany is Jesus day of Baptism. Eastern iconography depicts the waters of Jesus' Baptism as a liquid tomb leading down to Hades. There is a close connection between Jesus Baptism and Easter. St. John Chrysostom writes, "Going down into the water and emerging again are the image of the descent into hell and the Resurrection." Jesus' Baptism purifies the waters of Baptism and joins them to the entire mystery of salvation. Pope Benedict notes, "The sacrament of Baptism appears as the gift of participation in Jesus world-transforming struggle in the conversion of life that took place in his descent and ascent" (Jesus, p. 21). As St. Paul, notes, "But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27). It is through baptism that we are brought into communion with Christ, and so into communion with his suffering, death and Resurrection. Earlier St. Ignatius describes the mystery of Christ's person in another early creed, "There is only one physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then beyond it, Jesus Christ our Lord" (Ignatius to the Ephesians 7.2). It is only through the mystery of Christ who is "flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man" that the waters of Baptism become a life giving means of grace and the foundational Sacrament of initiation. Flowing out of this baptismal union with Christ is a universal vocation to holiness and apostolic witness. The Christian life becomes an active participation in the life of Christ and a light to the world in which we live. Holy Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us. (Novo Millennio Ineunte 74).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The man who claims to have read all of Augustine is a liar

There is a famous saying of St. Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636) that the man who claims to have read all of Augustine is a liar. It is quoted frequently but rarely with an exact reference. I have traced down the quote. In PL 83.1109 St. Isidore says [concerning the false view of Florezius?]

Corrupte apud Florezium, Augustine,

"Mentitur qui te totam legisse factetur"

My (literal) translation:

[Concerning Augustine] He is a liar who confesses to have read the whole [of his works].

See the full paragraph below.[1] Normally the quote is cited to mean that there are too many works of St. Augustine for anyone to claim to be an expert. Joseph Kelly comments, however, "The famous remark of the Spanish scholar Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636), that anyone who claimed to have read all the works of Augustine was a liar, was referring not to the number of the saint's works but to their accessibility in the early middle ages."[2]  Apparently there were few libraries that had a complete collection of St. Augustine's works.  Still the saying resonates with the difficultly of fully absorbing all of St. Augustine's thought.


[1] Full paragraph of PL 83.1109

Pro alumna alii ultique.

IV. Entit ; al., eninet.

V. Corrupte apud Florezium, Augustine,

Mentitur qui te totam legisse factetur.

Pro an quis alii ant quis. De re ipsa vide Etymo.og.

lib. vi, cap. 7, n. 3, versu 4, alii, quae loquur. Pro

ipse , alii ipsi, quod metro non congruit. Pro prudent-,

metrum desiderari ; sed videntur potius esse tres

hexametri sine ullo pentametro. De tertio versu dietum

in Isidorianis, loc. cit.

[2]Joseph F. Kelly, "Late Carolingian Era" in Augustine through the ages: an encyclopedia Ed. Allan Fitzgerald, John C. Cavadini. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) p. 127.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Examination of Conscience for Sports

How many times does my family fail to eat dinner together due to our commitments to Sports? Do I end up spending money unnecessarily on meals out because of the sports schedule?

How often does time spent with one child in sports take time away from my other children or my spouse? Does my spouse complain about the business of my schedule?

How does my involvement in sports impact my spiritual life? Does it interfere with Mass? Does it prevent our family from going to Mass together? Does it prevent me from attending other spiritual activities such as retreats, or classes for adult faith formation?

Do sports interfere with my child attending spiritual activities?

Do I allow myself to be pushed into giving excessive amounts of money and time to sports because of peer pressure and human respect?

Do I behave in a Christian manner while being a spectator? Do I unnecessarily discuss the faults of others? Do I treat the players with respect regardless of their performance at a particular game?

Am I supportive and encouraging of the weaker members of the team? Do I strive to model and build up virtue in the players?

Apostolic Fathers Chapter Five –The Didache (cont.)

Early Church Leadership in The Didache

Writing before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger noted that "the light of Jesus is reflected in the saints and shines out again from them" (The Yes of Jesus Christ). He notes, "God's speaking to us reaches us through men and women who have listened to God and come into contact with God" (The Yes of Jesus Christ). As we continue to reflect on the message of the Didache we seek to find the face of Christ reflected there.

In chapter eleven of the Didache we are introduced to itinerate or travelling 'apostles' and 'prophets' who are to be shown hospitality and respected but who are not to ask for money for themselves or to 'out stay' their welcome. We read, "Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule of the gospel" (Didache 11:3). The pattern St. Paul established for his own ministry was to earn his own wages. The travelling apostles described here are the equivalent of missionaries and church planters rather than the original circle of the Twelve plus Paul.

Hospitality was to be shown to all travelers provided they were willing to work. "Everyone 'who comes in the name of the Lord' is to be welcomed" (Didache 12:1). The visitor, "if he wishes to settle among you and is a craftsman, let him work for his living" (Didache 12:3). Provision should even be made for those who need further assistance, we are told, "But if he is not a craftsman, decide according to your own judgment how he shall live among you as a Christian, yet without being idle" (Didache 12:4). This matches the advice of St. Paul, "For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone will not work, let him not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The kindness shown to these itinerate peoples recognizes their inherent dignity as persons and is mirrored in the modern the advice given in the Compendium of Social Doctrine, which notes that,

"Regulating immigration according to criteria of equity and balance is one of the indispensable conditions for ensuring that immigrants are integrated into society with the guarantees required by recognition of their human dignity. Immigrants are to be received as persons and helped, together with their families, to become a part of societal life" (CSDC 298).

The Didache moves on to discuss the phenomena of prophets who were active in leadership of the Church. Prophets who have been tested and approved and who wish to settle in the community are to be treated with special dignity. They are to receiving the "first fruits" of the wine, oil, money and clothing. We are told, "Take, therefore, all the firstfruits of the produce of the wine press and threshing floor, and of the cattle and sheep, and give these firstfruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests" (Didache 13:3). There role as 'priests' even relates to the Eucharist. In the long section relating prayers for the Eucharist we are told, "But permit the prophets to give thanks however they wish" (Didache 12:7).

The Church structure found in the Didache is still very primitive and in the process of developing into its mature form. "Therefore appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men who are humble and not avaricious and true and approved, for they too carry out for you the ministry of the prophets and teachers. You must not, therefore, despise them, for they are your honored men, along with the prophets and teachers" (Didache 15:1-2). It is likely that at this early stage the titles 'bishop' and 'presbyter' were not distinguished (cf. Titus 1:5-9). Initially an Apostle, or his delegated coworkers in the apostolic circle (Timothy, Silas, Titus, Barnabas), were the leaders of Churches. Later a transition occurs with a single bishop in each community replacing the Apostles, and being assisted by presbyters. The strong involvement of prophets may have been an unusual element.

The phenomenon of Christian prophecy was still quite common in the early second century. St. Ignatius the Bishop of Antioch recounts his own prophecy in his letter to the Philadelphians, "I called out when I was with you, I was speaking with a loud voice, God's voice: "Pay attention to the bishop and to the presbytery and deacons. . . . the Spirit itself was preaching, saying these words: "Do nothing without the bishop. . . . ." (Ign.
Philadelphians 7:1-2). Ignatius encourages Polycarp to pray for the same gift, "but ask, in order that the unseen things may be revealed to you, that you may be lacking in nothing and abound in every spiritual gift" (Polycarp 2:2). Polycrates, the Bishop of Ephesus, describes the three prophetic daughters of the Apostle Philip "who lived in the Holy Spirit" at Ephesus and he describes Bishop Melito of Sardis (d. 190 A.D.) as "the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit" (Hist. Eccl. 5.24). The writer of the Shepherd of Hermas describes the experience prophecy (Herm Man. 11.9) as does Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho (39.1; 82.1; 88.1). The phenomena of prophecy also created difficulties for the early Church. The heretic Montanus and his prophets Maximilla and Pricilla claimed to receive a "new prophecy" which predicted the imminent end the world. The Montanists formed their own churches and eventually thought of their "new prophecy" as having greater value that Sacred Scripture. The Church rejected the Montanists as false prophets. At the same time the Church continued to recognize the role of genuine Christian prophecy. Although the Church gained more caution, St. Irenaeus of Lyon (190 A.D.) continued to describe prophetic phenomena in his churches at the close of the second century.

As we reflect on the gift of prophecy in the early Church, may we fan into flames the gift of the Spirit we have received through our Baptism, in order that we to might better reflect the face of Jesus, lighting up the pathways of this earth with faith and love.

Apostolic Fathers Chapter Four

The Didache

Once again we are drawn to see the face of Christ reflected in the writings of the early Christians. The ancient document titled in English, The Teaching of the (Twelve) Apostles is regarded by modern scholars as a late first/early second century 'church manual' which was used to prepare catechumens for baptism and to pass on the primitive traditions about church order. The modern consensus is that the title was added later, so the work is typically referred to as The Didache which is Greek for 'Teaching.' In the first Christian centuries this work was highly esteemed. The document may have been regarded as Scripture by Clement of Alexandria in the second century and Origen in the third century. By the fourth century the Didache was excluded from the canon of Scripture, though it is still recommended for reading by St Athanasius and Didymus the Blind. Sections of the Didache were incorporated in later "Church Orders."

Modern studies have suggested that this work is a composite document which was edited between 70 -110 A.D. It is likely that two short sections of the Didache were used by the early Church to train catechumens who were being prepared for baptism. There is a section on good and evil behavior entitled 'the Two Ways' (1:1-6:2) and a section containing ancient liturgical traditions found in 6:3-10:6. This material is roughly contemporary with St. Mark's Gospel. Scholars believe that the 'Two Ways' section may have existed as an earlier independent document in the Jewish world. The editor then added certain sayings of Jesus, most likely from Matthew's Gospel. Other material concerning the behavior of traveling missionary apostles, and prophets and of the leaders of the community were then added near the close of the first century.

The original Jewish 'Two Ways' tradition focused on the teachings of the ten commandments, "There are two ways, one of life, the other of death, and between the two ways there is a great difference." (Didache 1:1). The Christian version of this tradition found in the Didache replaces the authority of the law with that of the sayings of Jesus. One interesting note in this section of the document occurs after quoting the fifth and sixth commandments, "You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery." The Didache includes an example after this prohibition, "you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide." Both the Old Testament and Jewish custom recognized the grave offence of this act, but this is the first explicit instance of a Christian prohibition against this intrinsically evil act (Cf. Evangelium Vitae 62).

The later section of the Didache (Chapters 7-15) deals with variety of topics. The Didache gives instruction on how to perform Baptism, on the Eucharist, and even how to deal with traveling apostles and prophets. The section on Baptism advises;

"Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"in running water [literally "living water"]. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times "in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit" (Didache 7:1-3).

The words; "after you have reviewed all these things" (Didache 7:1) refer to the catechesis in the 'Two Ways' document. The baptismal advice of the Didache parallels the requirements found in the rabbinic traditions recorded in the Mishnah in the early second century. The Mishnah, (Mikwaot 1:1-8) distinguishes six grades of water with two criteria: "living" water is ranked above "drawn" water, and cold above hot. The Didache expresses preferences similar to rabbinic traditions but is more flexible.

Proselyte baptism also played a role in role in Gentile conversions to Judaism. Later Talmudic traditions view the newly baptized proselyte "like a child newly born" (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamoth 48b) with a completely new legal identity and understood that "God forgives the proselyte all his sins" through the conversion rite (Talmud Yerushalmi, Bikkurim 3:3). There is even evidence of a first century rabbinic dispute between Eliezer ben Hyrkan (ca. A.D. 90) and Jehoshua ben Chananja over whether circumcision or immersion made a man a Jew. As Pope Benedict has pointed out, already at the time of Jesus, John the Baptist was administering baptism "as a concrete enactment of conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever" (Jesus of Nazareth). Later Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit creating a new sacramental dimension to this rite. In the Didache, Baptism takes place in the name of the Trinity and implies incorporation into the Eucharistic community which has been "gathered together and became one" (Didache 9:4) in the Eucharist. The newly baptized are invited to join in the Eucharist celebration. The privilege of receiving the Eucharist is denied to those who are not yet baptized;

"But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for the Lord has also spoken concerning this: 'Do not give what is holy to dogs.'" (Didache 9:5).

Once again we can see the organic development of our Church traditions. Aspects of our modern Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) are already highlighted here in the first century.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Catholic Key Blog: Real Men in Black . . . Vestments

I posted an interview on  the Catholic Key Blog that is taking quite a few hits ...

The Catholic Key Blog: Real Men in Black . . . Vestments

Here’s something most Catholics my age or younger have probably never seen – black vestments. Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Kansas City hosted a special Mass for All Souls Day using antique black vestments.

Monday, November 2, 2009

All Souls Mass Kansas City

November 2, 2009

Today Our Lady of Good Council Parish hosted a special Mass for All Souls using antique black vestments. Rev. Msgr. William Blacet presided assisted by Dcn. Ralph Wehner, Director of the Office of Worship. The vestments were over 180 years old.

Photographs by Scott McKellar.

Apostolic Fathers Chapter III

St. Clement of Rome

As we continue our theme of seeking the face of Christ in the face of the early Church we must examine the letter of St. Clement to the Romans. Clement of Rome is an acclaimed figure in antiquity. Christians and heretics alike tried to claim him as their own. He is venerated in the prayers of Roman Canon, which names the first three popes (after Peter) as 'Linus, Cletus, and Clement.' Yet the actual text of the letter of St. Clement to the Corinthians begins with no mention of the author. Early church tradition has always ascribed the letter to Pope St. Clement I of Rome. St. Irenaeus claims that Clement had personally known the Apostles Peter and Paul and that "the preaching of the Apostles still echoed in his ears" (Adv. Haer. III, 3.3). Tertullian wrote that Clement of Rome was consecrated by Apostle Peter himself (De praescr. haeret. 32).

Clearly Clement of Rome was a well known and famous person but in spite of this little is known about his life. The name Clement was fairly common. While there are a number of intriguing possibilities, most scholars think that St. Clement was an otherwise unknown slave or freedman from a wealthy Roman family who took the name of Clemens. Traditionally scholars have dated the letter near the end of the reign of Domitian (95 or 96 A.D.)

Clement's letter show parallels to a type of political letter in which the orator appeals for unity against factions which have arisen in a region outside of Rome. It would be rash to speculate, that this demonstrates the early church incorporated a Roman imperial model of leadership. By mid-second century, the pattern of a single bishop in each town claiming full apostolic authority and assisted by a council of presbyters emerged without dispute. St. Clement notes,

"Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry." (1 Clement 44)

The fact that Clement uses a particular governing style does not mean he wishes to adopt the full Roman mindset. One must also deal with the irony of scholars who on the one hand wish for a weak and disorganized church structure in Rome during this period, but on the other hand claim Clement is marketing an imperial model power in his letter almost as though he were a patriarch!

The letter Clement writes to the Corinthians exhorts them to heal the schism or faction that a certain group of younger leaders have created by deposing some bishops who were appointed by the Apostles (1 Clement 42:1-5; 44:1-6).

Some scholars have highlighted the central theme of the letter as 'order' which may represent a parallel to the philosophy of Stoicism common during this period. Another group of scholars have emphasized the theme of 'restoring peace' following a Jewish-Christian theology which highlights obedience to the will of God as expressed by the Old Testament prophets. It is certainly possible to embrace both of these at once. Clement may well be interested in both 'order' and 'peace'. Echoing St. Paul in Philippians 2:6-11 and 2 Corinthians 8:9, Clement highlights the supreme dignity of Christ under the title the "Scepter of God's majesty" (1 Clement 16:2). Christ is the sign of 'order' and a model of humility. Clement writes,

"The apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus the Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the apostles are from Christ. Both, therefore, came of the will of God in good order. Having therefore received their orders and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and full of faith in the Word of God, they went forth with the firm assurance that the Holy Spirit gives, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was about to come" (1 Clement 42:1-3).

We can see the pattern of authority founded by God. God recognized the lordship of Christ, who in turn shared his authority with the apostles. The apostles then passed on their unique authority to the bishops who are empowered by the Spirit to preach the Gospel and shepherd the Church. This divine order is established by God for the good of the Church. The Church exists in communion with Christ as the means through which Christ is made present in the world.

The Monarchical Episcopate    


When we use the term 'Monarchical Episcopate,' it refers to the idea that a single bishop was appointed as the leader of a geographic area, usually a city. Bishops are the successors of the apostles, appointed by them to lead (CCC 77). In the New Testament, Titus is told to "appoint elders in every town" (Titus 1:5). We must recall that in the letter to Titus the terms 'elder/presbyter' and 'bishop' are used without a distinction between the two terms (cf. Titus 1:5-9). There is strong evidence that by the end of the second century a clear distinction between 'bishops' and 'presbyters' was made. One sees the pattern of a single bishop leading a community. Prior to this time there may well have existed communities which collegial leadership existed without a 'residential bishop.' This makes sense where originally an apostle was giving leadership to the community (either directly or through his delegate), and then after the passing of the apostle a transition to a new leadership model would emerge. It is likely that some communities initially had a more collegial type of leadership while others quickly had a single leader. By mid-second century, the pattern of a single bishop in each town claiming full apostolic ministry and assisted by a council of presbyters emerged. St. Clement of Rome (c. 96 A.D.) notes,

"Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry." (1 Clement 44)

The fact that Clement says "we are of the opinion" in the above passage and does not explicitly name himself the 'Bishop of Rome' in his letter has led some modern interpreters to say that Clement's letter must be viewed as evidence that the church in Rome had only collegial leadership in this time period. Many Protestant interpreters feel compelled to argue that there was no single bishop administering the Roman church. Some even speculate further the leaders of the Roman church were scattered among house churches and were no more than parish priests without a central leader. This seems like a rather heavy burden of speculation to place on the single word 'we'. While it is certainly possible there was a time of transition between the direct leadership of the apostles and a single bishop ruling the church of Rome, as Otto Karrer has pointed out it is very reasonable to believe the bishop-presbyters worked together and that "one of them was probably responsible for unity amongst his colleges and within the congregation as a whole." The one responsible for this leadership was soon called the 'bishop.' Other examples from the same era show exactly this picture. St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-107 A.D.) who is himself a bishop, in his Letter to the Ephesians describes the bishops "who have been appointed throughout the world" (3:2). He writes;

"Wherefore it is fitting that ye should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also ye do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung" (Ign. Ephesians 4:1).

While the terms 'bishop' and 'elder/ presbyter' were not clearly distinguished in the New Testament, the communities St. Ignatius writes to across Asia have three clearly distinguished offices: bishop, presbyter, and deacon. One can see this again in St. Ignatius' Letter to the Trallians, He writes;

Similarly let everyone respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, as also the bishop who is a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and as the band of the apostles. Nothing can be called a church without these. (Trallians 3:1)

Even more boldly St. Ignatius writes to the Smyrnaeans;

"You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ (followed) the Father, and (follow) the presbytery as the apostles; respect the deacons as the commandment of God. Let no one do anything apart from the bishop that has to do with the church. Let that be regarded as a valid Eucharist which is held under the bishop or to whomever he entrusts it" (Smyrnaeans 8:1).

While some scholars see St. Ignatius' early second century comments as an endorsement and promotion of what would eventually be the norm in the mid-second century, there is little evidence of resistance. One suspects the scholarly attempt to emphasize earlier diversity in church order is motivated not by historical integrity but by the desire to dissent from modern church order.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Apostolic Fathers Chapter II

Introduction to the Apostolic Fathers

Last week I introduced that theme of seeking the face of Christ as it is reflected in the face of the Church. We see this resemblance most clearly in the faces of the fathers of the Church. The term "Apostolic Fathers" refers to a collection of texts of the earliest Christian writers to succeed the apostles. Although many of the works found in the Apostolic Fathers were revered in antiquity, some of them fell out of use and were actually lost until modern times. The full text of The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles or in its Greek title the Didache, was only rediscovered in 1883. In fact the excitement surrounding the discovery of the Didache in 1883 was much like the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in our era.

Geographically the writings of the Apostolic Fathers come from a region sweeping around the Mediterranean Sea. The letter of Clement to the Corinthians and the Shepherd of Hermas are from Rome, Polycarp is from Smyrna in modern-day Turkey, the Didache and Barnabas have a variety of suggested locations from Antioch to Jerusalem, to Alexandria.

The dating of the Apostolic Fathers varies considerably. Some of the materials date from the first century and are contemporary with the New Testament. The Didache is a composite document which may incorporate an earlier Jewish catechetical tract. Most to these works are dated in the early second century.

The writers of the Apostolic Fathers are not speculative theologians but most often Bishops. Clement is the bishop of Rome, Ignatius is the bishop of Antioch, Polycarp is the bishop of Smyrna, the Didache is a manual of church discipline which attempts to pass on the traditions of the apostles through the bishops as they are remembered by one community. In each case the concern is with concrete pastoral problems in the new communities founded by the apostles. Questions relating to worship, liturgy, the Eucharist, catechesis of new converts, and the authority of bishops are raised in much the same manner as the New Testament.

It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus had a community of followers and that he intended to pass down the leadership of this community to the Twelve Apostles. Jesus intended to found the Church (CCC 857). Peter and the other Apostles engaged in a missionary activity and are soon joined by the Apostle Paul. The Church expanded rapidly into the Roman Empire around the Mediterranean establishing communities in most major cities. As the Catechism reminds us;

"In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority" (DV 7). Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time" (DV 8) (CCC 77).

Initially the movement was considered Jewish but the Church rapidly became predominantly Gentile, though of course many Christian traditions have Jewish origins. The early Christians used the Greek translation of the Old Testament as their Sacred Scriptures. The early Christians pointed to the fulfillment of the Old Testament in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. To these Scriptures they gradually add the memoirs of the apostles, the Gospels and the later writings of the New Testament.

In antiquity some of the documents found in the Apostolic Fathers were considered to be part of Sacred Scripture by early church theologians and historians. The canon established by the Church at the time of Athanasius in AD 367, excluded these writings from full canonical status.  The rejection of these documents as part of Sacred Scripture does not mean the documents were lacking in orthodoxy, but only in the judgment of the Church they are not inspired Scripture. At the time these documents were written the Church had no legal status in the Roman Empire and was subject to frequent persecutions. These persecutions lead to the martyrdom of some of the early Fathers.

The Apostles also established common patterns for worship and behavior in the churches they established and established (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33). Most Important among these beliefs and practices were the rites surrounding the celebration of the Eucharist. St. Paul notes; "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." (1 Corinthians 11:23-24). In saying that he "received" and "delivered" this tradition the Apostle Paul is using the technical verbs of preserving the tradition. St. Paul does not give us the full Eucharistic prayers but recounts the essential story of the institution narrative. The Didache repeats some other very early prayers from this Eucharistic tradition,

And concerning the Eucharist, hold Eucharist thus: First concerning the Cup, "We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which, thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child; to thee be glory for ever." And concerning the broken Bread: "We give thee thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy Child. To thee be glory for ever. (Didache 9)

It is likely that these prayers are modeled on the Jewish prayers of "sanctification" or (qiddush) that were given before a meal. Normally the form begins "Blessed are you, Lord our God." The Greek equivalent of this blessing is "We give you thanks" (eucharistein). It is from this word that we get the name Eucharist. Studying the early Fathers helps us to discern the lines of continuity and the organic development between the New Testament and the later Church.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Apostolic Fathers Chapter I

Apostolic Fathers Chapter I

Like Father, Like Son
As the father of a modestly large family of five children, I have the opportunity to learn many lessons about parenting and family life. I become more aware of who I am, as I see myself reflected in the lives of my children.
Over the past three years, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has been giving an extended series of Wednesday audience talks on the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church or the light of the face of Christ that is reflected in the face of the Church. We see this reflection on the face of the earliest apostles and then on the faces of the fathers of the Church. As each of us deepens in our desire to see the face of Jesus we are reminded that we do so as part of a great family. In a world where family life is often given a low priority, the Holy Father is inviting each of us to grow in our relationship with our spiritual family.
Today when we speak about the 'Church Fathers' we are referring to the writings of a series of early Christian teachers which the Church has deliberately held up as profitable for study and reflection. Many of these writers were bishops who ministered in direct succession to the first Apostles. Their teachings give us a glimpse of the face of Jesus as reflected in Sacred Tradition. These writers took the deposit of faith that they received from Christ through the Apostles (1 Corinthians 11:2, 16; 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6) and began the slow process of reflecting on its meaning in the life of the Church.
The title, 'father' probably stems from Jewish usage. The Gospel accounts speak of the "traditions of the elders" (Matthew 15:2) and "the elders of the people" (Matthew 21:23). The Jewish title 'elders' (prebuteroi) was taken over by the early Church to describe their own leaders along with the term 'episcopoi' or bishops (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 5:17-20; Titus 1:5-9). Initially the terms 'presbyter/elder' and 'bishop' are used somewhat interchangeably. Early in the second century the terminology became more stabilized with a single 'bishop' being assisted by 'presbyters' and 'deacons'. The Greek 'presbuteros' was translated into Latin as 'presbyter' and into Old English as 'preost' or 'priest.' In Jewish tradition the wise older person is also connected with the term 'father.' For example Luke refers to 'Father Abraham' (Luke 16:24) and the Apostle Paul to the 'patriarchs' or 'fathers' (Romans 9:5; Cf. Romans 4:12). These men are seen as models and teachers of the tradition of the elders. This leads St. Paul to affirm; "For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church" (1Corinthian 4:15-17). From this verse we can see how an apostle and later the 'bishop' could be regarded as the teacher and model of tradition and thus be called a 'father.'

The study of the lives, the writings and the doctrine of orthodox writers of Christian antiquity is called 'Patrology' (from the Latin patres). Specifically the term refers to the Greek writers of the East up to St. John Damascene, (c. A.D. 750), and the Latin writers of the West up to St. Gregory the Great (A.D. 540-604). These apparently differing dates may seem confusing but they relate to specific decisions in the East and West about when ecclesiastical approval for new fathers ended.
In order to qualify as an "orthodox writer from Christian antiquity" it is generally necessary to fulfill four conditions that are summarized for us by St. Vincent of Lérins (The Commonitory of Vincent of Lérins III.8, 77). In order to be considered a "Father" of the Church, the writer must demonstrate: (1) orthodoxy of doctrine, (2) holiness of life (3) ecclesiastical approval, and (4) antiquity. Orthodoxy relates to a judgment by the Church of how well the writings of a particular person harmonize with the deposit of faith and its exposition in various Church councils. The orthodoxy of the writer needed to be matched by holiness of life.
Ultimately these criteria flow out of the 'mark' of apostolicity held by the Church. The Church is apostolic in three ways (CCC 857). The Church has apostolicity of origin. The origin of the Church is found in Christ rather than early heretics such as Marcion, Valentius, or Montanus. The Church has apostolicity of doctrine. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit the Church is the guardian of the deposit of faith. Finally the Church has apostolicity of succession. The authority of Christ granted to the Apostles is passed down to bishops who minister in succession to them. The 'Church Fathers' are held up as teachers and models of this apostolic tradition.
In the series I am beginning today I wish to introduce us to the earliest of the Fathers of the Church. In modern times the earliest collection of the Church Fathers, during up to the second century, are called the Apostolic Fathers. This term
is used to describe the earliest Christian writings after the New Testament. These writers are described as still hearing the very echo of the Apostles in their ears. The Apostolic Fathers generally include the writings of bishops and early popes such as St. Clement of Rome; St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, as well as other church documents such as the Didache; letter of Diognetus, the Letter of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas. In this series on the Apostolic Fathers we will begin with an introduction to the history and background of this time period and then we will briefly examine each of these writings.

© Scott McKellar 2009
Index of posts on this topic

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Two become One Flesh.

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

In this Sunday's Gospel reading the Pharisees approach Jesus to "test" him with a difficult moral question. "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?" Although divorce was an accepted practice at the time of Jesus, if we search the Old Testament scriptures they nowhere command or directly authorize the practice of divorce. Deuteronomy 24 does prescribes how a "bill" of divorce was to be given for the protection of the woman involved, since it was the prerogative of the husband to initiate the procedure. The Rabbis were divided over the precise grounds on which a husband might issue a bill of divorce. One school argued that this could only take place on the grounds of marital infidelity, while the more common position advocated a no fault clause that allowed a man to divorce his wife for any reason. Faced with a moral dilemma created by culture and not Sacred Scripture, Jesus takes an unexpected position.

Jesus asks them, "What did Moses command you? Jesus use of the word "command" is noted and the Pharisees reply instead, "Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her." The Law merely regulates the practice, apparently tolerating it. Jesus takes the debate a step further by noting that this concession was because of the "hardness of their hearts." He then turns the discussion back to the original nature of the human person "from the beginning of creation."

Our most fundamental understanding of the human person does not flow from cultural norms or common practice but from our nature as creatures created in the image of God. Pope John Paul II recognized a new horizon for understanding the nature of the human person based on the Genesis account, as did the fathers of the second Vatican Council. John Paul II's reflections on this theme are found primarily in a collection of catechetical address on the Theology of the Body. Recently Carl Anderson and José Granados have written an excellent introduction to this thought entitled, Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

In the first reading From Genesis the Lord says, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him" (Genesis 2:18). Even though creation is itself "good" the man is left in a state of aloneness or original solitude which is judged to be "not good." Although man's original solitude is in part resolved by the creation of Eve, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Genesis 2:23), his solitude is greater than this. Anderson and Granados point out that "the term 'original solitude' underscores man's uniqueness when compared to other kinds of beings" and highlights "man's special relationship with the creator" (p. 27). Our first reading also points out that Adam's discovery of his original solitude comes about through his bodily experience of the world, it is revealed in the human body.

Before becoming the pope, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, noted that while the whole of creation offers the "sacrificium laudis" (Psalm 66:4) or the 'sacrifice of praise' to God, man "becomes the living expression of the glory of God" (cf. Psalm 116:17; Hebrews 13:15). Man becomes the special means which gathers together "the homage paid to the Lord by the whole of creation" (Sign of Contradiction). Man takes on a priestly role as a spokesperson or sacrament who speaks on behalf of the created world. Later Pope John Paul II observes that the aloneness of man and the desire to create a helper or partner for him (Genesis 2:18, 20) point to man's existence as "a relation of reciprocal gift" (TOB 14.1). Adam does not only exist with someone but for someone. "Communion of persons means living in a reciprocal "for," in a relationship of reciprocal gift." (TOB 14.2)

The next aspect of man's nature revealed in these texts is our original unity. This is Jesus' primary point in Mark's Gospel account. Jesus quotes from both creation accounts, "God made them male and female" (Genesis 1:27) and in marriage "the two shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Jesus astounds his disciples concluding, "what God has joined together, no human being must separate." The indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage is based on the unity of the communion of persons experienced by a man and women in marriage. The two become one flesh. As Pope John Paul II points out,

So it is that there are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined let man not separate." That phrase, "let man not separate," is decisive. In the light of this word of Christ, Genesis 2:24 states the principle of the unity and indissolubility of marriage as the very content of the word of God expressed in the most ancient revelation. (TOB 1.3).

Man's original unity also points to our bodily constitution as either male or female. Masculinity and femininity are two different "incarnations" (TOB 8.1) in which the same human being is created in the "image of God" (Genesis 1:27). This again points to the communion of persons as "two reciprocally completing ways of 'being a body'" (TOB 10.1).

The original unity of the human couple points to the mystery of our unity with Christ. As the council fathers remind us, "The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, (Roman 5:14) namely Christ the Lord."(GS 22). The unity and indissolubility of marriage is a sign of God's own gift of his Son. Sacred Scripture connects this to Christ, " . . . 'the two shall become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:31-32). Holy Mary Queen of the family. St. Joseph guardian and protector of the family. Pray for us.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Catholic Key: Online Edition Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City - St.Joseph

The Catholic Key: Online Edition Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City - St.Joseph

An opinion piece, entitled "Thank God it's Monday"

USCCB - (Office of Media Relations) Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists Mark Tenth Anniversary Of Historic Agreement

USCCB - (Office of Media Relations) Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists Mark Tenth Anniversary Of Historic Agreement

In this historic aggreement Catholics, Lutherans and Mothodists confess their common belief on justification reversing the misunderstandings of the Reformation.

The Finnish Lutheran school following Finnish theologian Tuomo Mannermaa (pictured above) have recently argued that we should distinguish between “Luther’s theology” and the “Theology of Lutheranism”. Many of our cartoons about Luther's beliefs are being overturned by more careful research.

Lutheran theolgian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen notes;
"In contrast to the theology of the Lutheran Confessions, Luther does not make a distinction between forensic and effective justification but rather argues that justification includes both. In other words, in line with Catholic theology, justification means both declaring righteous and making righteous." [1]

[1]Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, "Drinking from the Same Wells with Orthodox and Catholics": Insights from the Finnish Interpretation of Luther's Theology, Currents in Theology and Mission 34 no 2 Ap 2007, p 85-96.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Searching for Humility

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus begins by modeling his leadership on the principle of being a servant. The disciples do not understand the connection between his mission as the Suffering Servant and authority. Jesus came, "not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Jesus rebukes the apostles for debating among themselves "who was the greatest." Jesus called the Twelve and says to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Jesus is calling the apostles to look deeper within their hearts to examine the motives for their actions. The Gospel reading this Sunday is one of a number of passages which deal with the important topic of sincerity and humility. In the parable found in Luke 14 someone sits at a lower place than is their due at a banquet and is moved to higher place by the host of the banquet, while someone else is moved downward for exalting himself and thinking more highly of himself than he should. In Luke 18 we have the story of the Pharisee and publican. The Pharisee's pride and self-importance smother his prayers. In both cases selfish-ambition and desire "to be seen by others" is a sign that there is a lack of humility.

In her work, The Interior Castle, St. Theresa of Ávila defines 'humility' as self-knowledge. Humility is being truthful with yourself about who you really are. Not thinking more highly of yourself than you should, but also not thinking less highly of yourself than you should. St. Theresa describes humility as a mirror in which we see ourselves as we are, but which also helps us to realize that any good thing we do has its source not in ourselves alone but in God's grace. This mirror also helps us to see the depths of our sins and shortcomings. This type of self-knowledge is absolutely crucial to begin to make progress in the spiritual life. St. Theresa notes, "Self-knowledge is so important that, even if you were raised right up to the heavens, I should never like you to relax your cultivation of it." (IC, II)

The virtue of humility is defined by St Thomas Aquinas as "keeping oneself within one's own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one's superior" (Summa Contra Gent., IV, lv). Humility is a virtue in opposition to pride, and the virtue is exercised as a type of self-control. A false notion of humility often arises in which it is defined as "constantly putting yourself down." If someone met a famous painter and complimented the obvious beauty and profoundness of her work, it would not be humble of the painter to reply, "Oh, the painting is really not very good. I'm sure many others could do better." This is false humility. The humble response is simply to thank the person for the compliment and to give praise to God for bestowing these gifts on the painter. It would also be appropriate to acknowledge the discipline and hard work that went into developing these skills. Having said this, acknowledging what is true does not require us to begin boasting about our achievements. St. Francis de Sales warns of the false humility which causes us to "say we are nothing, that we are misery itself and the refuse of the world, but we would be sorry if anyone should take us at our word . . . On the contrary, we pretend to retire and hide ourselves, so that the world may run after us and seek us out" (Introduction to the Devote Life, III,5).

Our second reading from James reminds us that many disordered problems arise from "bitter jealousy and selfish ambition" and from a lack of truthfulness and sincerity and failure to control our passions (James 3:13-18). Humility comes from wisdom (James 3:13). It is not a lack of humility to seek professional prestige and to use the gifts God has given us to their fullness, even if this results in being noticed. To do less would actually be a failure to live up to the calling God has given to us. It would be a failure to use our gifts and talents for the glory of God. As the Catechism reminds us our human work is natural outgrowth of our being created in the image and likeness of God, it is a duty, it can be redemptive and it can be a means of sanctification, "a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ" (CCC 2427). Having said this, it is not right work in order to seek fame for fame's sake. Even the Apostles fell into this trap. As Jesus notes in this Sunday's Gospel; "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." We are reminded of the title chosen for the Roman Pontiff, Servus servorum Dei, the servant of the servants of God.

Perhaps Our Lady is the greatest example of a disciple living the virtue of humility. After receiving the message of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, Mary questions her own adequacy as the one chosen for this mission but resolves at the end of the passage, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). Mary models complete abandonment to the divine will. Let us entrust ourselves to her maternal care.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Christopher Dawson on Technology and the Demise of Liberalism

Christopher Dawson on Technology and the Demise of Liberalism

This is an extremely interesting article by a leading Catholic thinker Professor Russell Hittinger. I was particular struck by his comment; ". . . in all of the western democracies today, the “liberal” party stands for a state managed economy. It did not succeed in its cultural mission of creating societies based upon freedom and persuasion, but rather succumbed to the militarization of state, and to the creation of new police powers and systems of surveillance."

This is exactly what has happened in Canada under years of the Liberal political party. All this with the added irony that the Prime Misters responsible were Catholics! Increasingly the state is imposing a "political correct" dogma on its citizens either by state imposed "education", official propaganda or the rule of law. I truely felt living there that my freedoms were being eroded.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Parents, educators ponder whether schoolchildren should be shown Obama address - Kansas City Star

Parents, educators ponder whether schoolchildren should be shown Obama address - Kansas City Star

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The controversy regarding President Obama’s address to school children causes me to reflect on how we can disagree with certain views and policies a politician holds, while still respecting the office that she or he holds. The Apostle Paul strongly admonishes;

Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. . . This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” (Romans 13:1-7.

It is obvious from Paul’s own life, as we see it in the Acts of the Apostles, that he is quite willing to resist authority when it stands in opposition to the freedom of the Gospel. Paul is a virtually a jail-bird in Acts. Yet Paul’s world is not the situation we find ourselves in today. What is the proper response today in a democracy that has enshrined our religious freedom? Clearly we have the freedom to speak our mind and a responsibility to do so. We also have the responsibility to vote in harmony with a properly formed Christian conscience. What kind of respect is owned to those who hold legitimate office even if their political views are not always clear? What if the pattern of their voting record shows they lack integrity in key ethical areas? Clearly we can vote against them at the polls but in a pluralistic society they may still get elected to political office. Even if we think a particular politician lacks a well formed moral compass, we still owe them respect when they govern the nation or proposed laws which are in harmony with the dignity of the human person and the common good. In many political situations there are no easy answers. Paul’s admonition to the Romans suggests we still need to show respect for the person’s office. Perhaps the most fundamental way to show this respect is the pray for those in authority. Later in his letter to Timothy, Paul writes,
First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity (1 Timothy 1:1).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

‘Do you call twenty several?’

While researching the topic of indulgences I was asked how long after the principle act of earning the indulgence a person had to fulfill the obligation of receiving the sacramental Confession. I came across the following passage on the Vatican Website.

5. It is appropriate, but not necessary, that the sacramental Confession and especially Holy Communion and the prayer for the Pope's intentions take place on the same day that the indulgenced work is performed; but it is sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Prayer for the Pope's intentions is left to the choice of the faithful, but an "Our Father" and a "Hail Mary" are suggested. One sacramental Confession suffices for several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and a separate prayer for the Holy Father's intentions are required for each plenary indulgence.


This clarifies the question nicely, but raises a new question, since when does "several" mean "about 20"? Frankly this reminds me of the passage in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, where Gandalf begins to slowly introduce their company of 15 to Beorn and he begins by calling them "several" so as not to alarm him by their large number.

Gandalf says to Beorn,

"There was a terrible storm; stone-giants were out hurling rocks, and at the head of the pass we took refuge in a cave, the hobbit and I and several of our companions . . ."

'Do you call two several?'

'Well, no. As a matter of fact there were more than two."

Gandalf eventually introduces 13 dwarves.

Hmm, I think it's time for "elevensies" and since it is hot perhaps we should have "several" cold drinks.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Indulging in the Mystery of the Church.

A recent Vatican document offers the following definition of an indulgence:

1. This is how an indulgence is defined in the Code of Canon Law (can. 992) and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1471): "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints".

My guess is that most outside observers thing that and indulgence is the forgiveness of the guilt of sin directly and not "the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven." Perhaps this is easiest to understand using an analogy. If I break my arm and then have the break set, wear a cast until it is healed. I am able to use my arm again but is it as good a new? The answer is no. My arm is weaken by this experience. This is paralleled to what happens in the soul. I have obtained forgiveness but my past sinful behavior has left my soul weak and filled with imperfections that need to be healed by God's grace. If I die in friendship with God but still filled with imperfections I will need to be purified by God's love before I can spend eternity in his loving presence. Catholics call this purification purgation or purgatory. We find this purgation by fire (most likely a reference to God's love) in Scripture in 1 Corinthians 3:10-16. Just to be absolutely clear this isn't about "being saved" but about the later divine perfection of the soul. Protestant theologians also believe in this under the heading of the final perfection and glorification of the soul. What is different for some (perhaps most Protestants) is the denial on their part of the role of the Church as a Sacrament of Salvation.

My guess is that it also smacks to some of something mechanistic. Again this is to misunderstand how this works. The penitent receiving the indulgence is enjoined to make their heart right with God seeking sacramental forgiveness for any serious sins, then to receive our Lord lovingly in the Holy Eucharist, and to pledge to abstain from attachment even to less serious sin and false habits in their life. These are called the "normal conditions" which must accompany the successful reception of the indulgence. An indulgence is then a call to holiness and a gift of grace from the Church.

All of this may raise more questions than it answers, but it is rooted in love and relationship and the mystery of the Church.