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Catholicism (and Christianity) in a Nutshell

April 9, 2014 4 comments

crucifix“There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church, which is, of course, quite a different thing.”- Bishop Fulton Sheen

 

There are all kinds of ways to go about discussing Catholicism and what it is. Sometimes it’s easier to go by questions that a person has, but it can also be beneficial to lay some groundwork.

Here are some of the basic tenants…

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History and Compilation of the Bible

April 2, 2014 Leave a comment

One of the topics which I have always found provocative in conversations with fellow Christians (and non-Christians) has been the discussion of the history of our bible, how it got from the lips of God to the leather bound books we carry today. A few years back, I did a bit of reading and came up with this brief summary of what I found. Feel free to keep it for your reference or comment if you think I’m way off on something.

 

We are very fortunate in our day to be blessed with one compact volume that contains all the divinely inspired word of God throughout salvation history. This compilation however is relatively recent in the grand scheme of things. Let’s take a look at it from the beginning…

The Law (Pentateuch):

-Referred to as the Torah

-Comprise the first five books of the bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy)

-Traditionally believed to have been written by Moses (around 1200 B.C.)

-The Jewish people generally consider these the most important books

 

The Prophets (Nebiim):

-Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings)

-Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve Minor Prophets, counted by the Hebrews as one book)

The Writings (wa-Kethubin):

-Called Hagiographa by Greek (holy writings)

-(Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Wisdom, Sirach/ Ecclesiasticus)

 

Most of the Prophets and the Writings are believed to have been compiled by Ezra in the early fifth century B.C. during the reconstruction of the Temple. These books comprise what is now known as the Protocanonical Books. Seven books (specifically Tobit, Baruch, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, and 1and 2 Maccabees), and certain additions to others were not associated with Ezra and are known as Deuterocanonical (Second cannon). This term is used to denote books whose canonicity has been questioned. The terms were only introduced in the 16th century however, and are neither chronological nor indicate a lesser importance.

As the Jewish people became more and more engulfed by the surrounding culture, they began speaking in the language of those around them. Specifically, many Jews in the fourth century spoke Greek (since Alexander had conquered the majority of the area) and found it appropriate to transcribe the Hebrew texts into that language. In order to do this a council was called in the 3rd century B.C. in which a group of Jewish elders came together to translate the documents in Alexandria. The most ancient accounts describe a slightly fantastic meeting called by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, King of Egypt (287-47 BC) to have the Hebrew books translated for the Library in Alexandria. According to that tradition there were seventy two translators (six from each tribe), thus the name Septuagint for the translation. Whether or not the translation was made for this purpose or by said number of translators, the text does reliably date back to that time frame and was used and accepted widely, even in Palestine, during the centuries leading up to the birth of our Lord.  Meanwhile, the Palestinian Jews maintained their Documents in the Hebrew language.

The books which compose the Protocannonical books were present in both the Palestinian and Septuagint transcripts. The Deuterocanonical books (Deutero), however, were only present in the Septuagint. One hypothesis holds that all the books were present in both scriptures originally but were removed from the Palestinian literature some time after the 2nd century B.C. Another theory holds that the Palestinian Jews only passed down that which was translated by Ezra, while the Greek Jews continued to compile scriptures as they were revealed.  It should be noted that there was never an actual defined cannon of scriptures before the Christian era and the sacredness of some of the Protocannonical books was even debated into the 2nd century AD by some Rabbis. The first time we see the Jewish people actually define their cannon (as only the Protocannonical books), is in 90 A.D. Early church fathers such as Justin Martyr (C165) however, made it clear that the Christian church was not dependant on the Jewish hierarchy to determine its cannon and that theirs differed from the Jews.

By the time Jesus walked the earth, the Septuagint translation had been widely used and accepted even in Jerusalem. Later, as his accounts were being recorded by his apostles and their followers in the New Testament, it should be noted that in the 350 references to the Old Testament, 300 favor the Septuagint to the Palestinian translations. One should however temper this statement with the fact that neither the Septuagint nor Palistinian versions were kept as single volumes. More regularly there was only a few scrolls here and a few there. Further, it is true that none of the Deutero books were quoted in the New Testament, but neither were Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ezra, or Nehemiah. In addition, there are many verses in the epistles which do allude to the Dueteros (even if not directly quoting them). Furthermore, the book of Jude actually quotes apocryphal books (Henoch and the Assumption of Moses) thereby diminishing the value of New Testament citations in the cannon of the Old.  Also, even though Jesus never directly quoted the Dueteros, check this out….

 

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take your yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

~Matthew 11:28-30

“Come aside to me you untutored, and take up your lodging in the house of instruction; How long will you be deprived of wisdom’s food, how long will you endure such bitter thirst? I open my mouth and speak of her: gain, at no cost, wisdom for yourselves. Submit your neck to her yoke, that your mind may accept her teaching. For she is close to those to the one who is in earnest finds her. See for yourselves! I have labored only a little, but have found much.”

~Sirach 51:23-27

(In case you were curious, even some Protestant concordances see the link…)

 

The New Testament Cannon also provided a great challenge to the early church. There were a considerable amount of documents floating around claiming to be of apostolic origin which needed to be evaluated for divine inspiration. Some were more widely accepted while others where held in question. The gospels which we hold today, along with most of Paul’s epistles to specific communities were well accepted, and noted by Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch in the early second century, but his letter to the Hebrews along with many of the “Catholic books” (James, 2-3 John, Peter, Jude and revelation etc) were questioned along with some which are not part of our cannon including the Epistle of Barnabas, Shepard of Hermas and the Didache. In addition, certain passages in the gospels (ie woman caught in adultery, close of st Mark’s Gospel, and apparitions of Jesus after the resurrection) were held in question.

 

These problems only grew more difficult as the church began to spread and more documents began popping up. The first place we see an official church gathering which defined canonical books was a Synod in Africa (Hypo) in [358] which was later ratified by Rome.  We also see a Synod called by Pope Damasus in 382 in which the complete Canon was defined with the help of St. Jerome among others (even though he didn’t actually believe the Old Testament Deutero books to be valid). The actual document promulgated from this Synod was “Decretum Gelasii de recipiendis et non recipiendis libris”. In 397, the council of Carthage also defined the cannon (same as the other 2) and this was also ratified by Rome. So by the end of the 4th century A.D. the cannon of the bible was defined by the Church. There was little debate about the New Testament from this point until the Protestant Reformation, but the Old Testament actually was still under debate.

Even though Jerome was instrumental in the Synod which defined all the inspired books of both the Old and New Testament, he disagreed on the validity of the OT Dueteros. This was especially problematic since he was the one who translated them into the Latin Vulgate (which is still the baseline for most of today’s translations). When he did, he wrote a prologue to the Deutero books which pretty much stated them to be non-canonical (even though the Synod had determined them to be otherwise). Since this was the official translation for the Church. That prologue followed the Bible everywhere it went leading to a great deal of confusion throughout the centuries even affecting Thomas Aquinas. Remember, they did not have the internet, or even the printing press, in the early church. Knowledge of church teaching was mainly passed down by word of mouth and what documents were available. The bible was understandably the most available document, thereby making Jerome’s prologue more accessible than the 4th century councils.

During the Protestant Reformation, this debate was very convenient for Luther’s theology. Since the books contradicted his beliefs (i.e. purgatory in 2 Mac 12:46) he removed them from his cannon. He also removed many of the contested New Testament epistles, mentioned earlier (Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation), considering for example the epistle of James to be “an epistle of straw” (fitting since James 2:24 directly contradicts the concept of salvation by faith alone). It should also be noted that Luther actually added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28 so that it read “we are justified by faith alone, without the works of the law.” By the 18th century however, the Catholic and Protestant churches were at least back on the same pages in the New Testament.

 

Inspiration:

“ Its sole absolute criterion, therefore, is the Holy inspiring Spirit, witnessing decisively to Itself, not in the subjective experience of individual souls, as Calvin maintained, neither in the doctrinal and spiritual tenor of Holy Writ itself, according to Luther, but through the constituted organ and custodian of Its revelations, the Church. All other evidences fall short of the certainty and finality necessary to compel the absolute assent of faith. (See Franzelin, “De Divinâ Traditione et Scripturâ”; Wiseman, “Lectures on Christian Doctrine”, Lecture ii; also INSPIRATION.)”

 

Sources:

-(www.Newadvent.org> (search for “old testament Cannon”, “new testament cannon”, and “Septuagint”)

http://www.tertullian.org/decretum_eng.htm

– “Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church”, Henry G. Graham

 

AMDG

Faith and History

March 16, 2014 Leave a comment

A few years ago, I posted a blog on Faith and Science which elicited a very logical and detailed response from a reader of the opposite opinion. I appreciated his comments because he made them in a dignified and logical way and expressed what seem to be many people’s reservations about Christianity and religion in general these days.

The first thing that I noted though, was that he wasn’t really countering my discussion on faith and science. Instead, he was addressing a separate issue of faith and history. You see, science and religion are fields which seek truth about very different aspects of the same reality. Where science seeks to understand how the universe works and how to control it, religion seeks to explain the meaning of the universe and Who or What created and already controls it. Science deals more with concrete realities while religion handles the realities that we can’t put our hands on.

History is an interesting topic because it becomes something of a meeting point for the two fields. Science uses its concrete methodologies to determine realities of the past, and many religions claim a God who has actively participated in history. Christianity, more than any other religion (that I know of), lays itself on the line in the historical stage. As a Christian, I believe in a God who sent his son, Jesus of Nazareth, as human being to live, die, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven. If those things did not historically happen, then my faith is false. What I have noticed though, is that the larger issue is that both faith and science have tended to overstep their bounds in trying to express their discoveries about reality. As I discussed in the original post, Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, has a rap for the insistence by church leaders in various centuries that certain physical realities were revealed by God in the bible and therefore irrefutable, when God was simply using the terms and culture of the current society to express the reality of his love and faithfulness. Conversely, scientists who make discoveries or develop theories about physical realities have on occasion claimed that their work points to a reality that either has no place or no need for God. However, the philosophical implications of those statements are well beyond the expertise and field of a scientist.   When both of these flawed perspectives make their way into historical discussions, the process generally results in tainted religion, science, and history.

If you have some time, please read the blog response to my initial blog below as well as my follow-up and let me know what you think. I’m sure there is much more perspective to be added on both sides of the argument and I welcome the discussion…

Read more…

Growth vs change

October 12, 2012 Leave a comment

There is often discussion of how the Church needs to change its teaching on this or that, but we must realize that Truth doesn’t change with time. It is only our understanding of that truth which can grow and fill various situations. I think Saint Vincent of Lerins said it best (taken from today’s office of readings):

Is there to be no development of religion in the Church of Christ? Certainly, there is to be development and on the largest scale.

Who can be so grudging to men, so full of hate for God, as to try to prevent it? But it must truly be development of the faith, not alteration of the faith. Development means that each thing expands to be itself, while alteration means that a thing is changed from one thing into another.

The understanding, knowledge and wisdom of one and all, of individuals as well as of the whole Church, ought then to make great and vigorous progress with the passing of the ages and the centuries, but only along its own line of development, that is, with the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import.

The religion of souls should follow the law of development of bodies. Though bodies develop and unfold their component parts with the passing of the years, they always remain what they were. There is a great difference between the flower of childhood and the maturity of age, but those who become old are the very same people who were once young. Though the condition and appearance of one and the same individual may change, it is one and the same nature, one and the same person.

The tiny members of unweaned children and the grown members of young men are still the same members. Men have the same number of limbs as children. Whatever develops at a later age was already present in seminal form; there is nothing new in old age that was not already latent in childhood.

There is no doubt, then, that the legitimate and correct rule of development, the established and wonderful order of growth, is this: in older people the fullness of years always brings to completion those members and forms that the wisdom of the Creator fashioned beforehand in their earlier years.

If, however, the human form were to turn into some shape that did not belong to its own nature, or even if something were added to the sum of its members or subtracted from it, the whole body would necessarily perish or become grotesque or at least be enfeebled. In the same way, the doctrine of the Christian religion should properly follow these laws of development, that is, by becoming firmer over the years, more ample in the course of time, more exalted as it advances in age.

In ancient times our ancestors sowed the good seed in the harvest field of the Church. It would be very wrong and unfitting if we, their descendants, were to reap, not the genuine wheat of truth but the intrusive growth of error.

On the contrary, what is right and fitting is this: there should be no inconsistency between first and last, but we should reap true doctrine from the growth of true teaching, so that when, in the course of time, those first sowings yield an increase it may flourish and be tended in our day also.

AMDG

Dear ACLU,

January 22, 2012 Leave a comment

This is an overdue response to a letter (requesting financial support) which I received from ACLU a few months ago…

Dear ACLU,

A while back you were kind enough to send me a letter and enclose a copy of the Constitution of the United States. It is a document which I hold dear to my heart and has shaped my life (as well as the course of human history) profoundly.  Both in my work and in my personal pursuits, I too am dedicated to preserving the great liberties that this fine country offers its citizens. For your gift and the intent of your organization, I am deeply grateful.

With that being said, I took a step which I feel few of your supporters (and sadly few others) do. I actually READ the constitution. I didn’t look at the court cases or pop culture or my personal inclinations towards what civil liberties should be. I looked at the document and what it actually says, along with the intent of those who actually wrote it.  Read more…

Apostolic Succession

June 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Peter encouraged the early followers to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”(1peter3:15). I think most Christians have one specific thing that does root us in our faith. When doubts arise in our hearts there is one thing that we remember and know. Even though we may not understand it all, we know this one part is true and so the rest must be true too. For some it’s the historicity of the resurrection, for some it’s our definitive need for a savior, still others fall back on some specific encounter they had with God. I believe God grants most, if not all of us, at least one strong foothold by which to persevere in faith when we are struggling with disbelief or confusion. If you have not found such a stronghold, pray that you do, I will pray with you…

I think most sincere Catholics further have some aspect within the Church that secures their faith and identity as members of the Universal Church. It may be the validity of a certain teaching or practice unique to Catholicism, a personal experience, or any number of other things. In my limited time on this earth, God has blessed me with more faith building experiences and insights than I could have ever reasonably asked for, but my sincerest security has always been with apostolic succession – the fact that Christ founded his church on the rock of Peter and gave his authority to his apostles who specifically appointed men to take on their roles, assume their authority and carry the keys that were handed down to them by Christ. These successors are today’s Roman Catholic clergy. And to this day, they retain the power that Christ gave his apostles to forgive sins, teach with authority, confer the Holy Spirit, and offer the sacrifice of His true body and blood. Read more…

Faith and Science

June 18, 2011 3 comments

The other night I was talking with one of my friends about the role that our faith has in our pursuit of scientific truth. She was concerned because of a fairly common notion these days that intellectual evaluation of the world leads people to loose their faith. It’s a misconception that scientists and Christians alike have fallen prey to over the last few centuries. The basic idea behind that philosophy is that religion is for the ignorant. That it can’t withstand intellectual scrutiny and has no place in the mind of a person who wishes to understand how the world really works. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Read more…