Tuesday, September 29, 2020

James, Paul, and Justification at the Council of Trent

Justification means being put into right relationship with God; or as the Council of Trent declared, it is “the change from the condition in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam into a state of grace and adoption among the children of God through the Second Adam, Jesus." A great number of people, both inside and outside of the Church, are confused as to how we believe this comes about. One of my goals when writing James: Jewish Roots, Catholic Fruits was to show how James’ view of justification is in agreement with St. Paul’s and how this biblical teaching is exactly what the Catholic Church enunciated in Trent’s Decree Concerning Justification (DCJ hereafter). While a chapter allows me to go into much greater detail, I at least wanted to put together a meaty summary for blog readers, showing how justification is a process with a beginning, middle, and end – with every stage completely dependent upon God’s grace.


Initial Justification

God is the source of our justification. The Father sent his Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit to announce and enact the gospel of our salvation. Faith in Christ’s gospel. James tells us, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” Paul is of the same mind: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:9). And Trent could not be more emphatic: “[N]one of the things that precede justification, whether by faith or works, merit the grace of justification. For, if by grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the Apostle says, grace is no more grace [Rom 11:6].” (DCJ, 7); and again, “in adults the beginning of that justification must proceed from the predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ…without any merits on their part, they are called” (DCJ, 5).

We cooperate with this predisposing grace and receive baptism, the sacrament of faith: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7). Baptism is our birth into the family of God.


Progress in Justification

Once born, we are expected to grow; and that growth requires our cooperation. Just as physical growth requires proper nutrition, the normal functioning of the muscles, and avoidance of danger; so growth in supernatural life requires attentiveness to prayer, the willingness to live as Christ, and the avoidance of grave sin. Without these; we whither. James asks, “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead “(2:14-17). This actually continues St. Paul’s thought from above, “by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God…For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:9-10).

Every good work originates in God but is actualized in us, and thus requires our cooperation. That is why Paul tells the Philippians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). The Council of Trent says the same: “For since Christ Jesus Himself, as the head into the members and the vine into the branches [Jn 15:1], continually infuses strength into the justified, which strength always precedes, accompanies, and follows their good works, and without which they could not in any manner be pleasing and meritorious before God……[F]ar be it that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself and not in the Lord [1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17], whose bounty toward all men is so great that He wishes the things that are His gifts to be their merits” (DCJ, 16).

Martin Luther famously saw conflict between James’ statement that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (2:24) and Paul’s “a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom 3:28); but this simply isn’t the case. James wrote to Jewish Christians who he had reason to believe were lax in living their faith. Paul, on the other hand, wrote to mixed communities in which Jewish believers insisted that Gentiles who came to faith in Christ were not truly justified until they were circumcised and began living under the Mosaic Law’s cultic and dietary stipulations.

Christians do live under a law, but it is not the Law of Moses. It is what James calls “the royal law,” or law of the kingdom (2:8-9) and what Paul calls the “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21). Paul makes a distinction between “works of the law” and other “works” which must be manifest if one is to obtain final salvation:

[God] will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life…. it is not the hearers of the [Mosaic] law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law [of Moses] do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Rom 2:6–7, 13–16)

Paul makes the same point in Galatians: “[T]hrough the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Gal 5:5-6). There is no true conflict between Paul and James. They even make the same distinction between those who hear and those who do (Rom 2:13; James 1:22)!

We progress in justification as we remain faithful to Christ in the midst of trial and temptation. Listen to James: “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him…[E]ach person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” (1:12-15). “What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war” (4:1-2). Paul called this our struggle against “the flesh” (Rom 7:21-23; 8:12-13). But as James assures us, we receive power to overcome, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind…Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. (James 4:6-10).

The Council of Trent wrote of these same realities: “[I]n the one baptized there remains concupiscence or an inclination to sin, which, since it is left for us to wrestle with, cannot injure those who do not acquiesce but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; indeed, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned [Eph 4:22, 24; Col. 3:9]. This concupiscence, which the Apostle sometimes calls sin [Rom 6-8; Col. 3], the holy council declares the Catholic Church has never understood to be called sin in the sense that it is truly and properly sin in those born again, but in the sense that it is of sin and inclines to sin” (Decree Concerning Original Sin, 5).

“Venial” sins impede the flow of Christ’s life within us but do not completely sever our union with the Lord. James says, “For we all make many mistakes” (3:2); and Trent notes, “during this mortal life, men, however holy and just, fall at times into at least light and daily sins, which are also called venial, they do not on that account cease to be just, for that petition of the just, forgive us our trespasses [Mt 6:12]” (DCJ, 11). Venial sins, if not repented of, can lead us into mortal sin; or as James says, “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death” (1:15). Paul lists such deadly sins in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Galatians 5:19-21.

“But God, who is rich in mercy,” will restore every child who repents (Eph 2:4). James writes, “whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:20). This healing is normally effected through the sacrament of reconciliation, or penance; and James may well make reference to the public celebration of the sacrament when, after his discussion of presbyters anointing the sick, he counsels readers to “confess your sins to one another” (5:16; Cf Jn 20:22-23). Trent highlights the role of grace in reconciliation: “Those who through sin have forfeited the received grace of justification, can again be justified when, moved by God, they exert themselves to obtain through the sacrament of penance the recovery, by the merits of Christ, of the grace lost” (DCJ, 14).

The bottom line is that we must grow in the divine life. As Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil 3:12).

Final Justification

Our perseverance in grace will be rewarded when we stand before Christ the judge and receive the fullness of justification in the resurrection of our bodies. James tells us, “Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:7-8); and Paul writes, “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:16-17). Trent insists that even this result of grace:

“…with regard to the gift of perseverance, of which it is written: He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved [Mt 10:22; 24:13], which cannot be obtained from anyone except from Him who is able to make him stand who stands [Rom 14:4], that he may stand perseveringly, and to raise him who falls, let no one promise himself herein something as certain with an absolute certainty, though all ought to place and repose the firmest hope in God's help. For God, unless men themselves fail in His grace, as he has begun a good work, so will he perfect it, working to will and to accomplish [Phil 1:6; 2:13]” (DCJ, 13).

So there you are my friends, a scriptural and magisterial “cheat sheet” on the doctrine of justification.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Quick Thoughts on the Transfiguration

In my writing I've reflected upon Jesus' transfiguration a fair amount. Our Lord is an infinite Person and so the events of His earthly life are an inexhaustible source of revelation. This was brought home to me again this morning as I prayed through Matthew's account (17:1-8) of the Transfiguration. A quick list of what jumped out at me today:
"Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them" (1-2)  Even in our intimacy with the Lord, we always come to Him as members of His Church. (Heb 12:1, 22-24).

"...a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him" (5).  The cloud, or God's presence, emits light; but it is divine light. It blocks out the natural light of the sun, the "light," or so called "wisdom of the world," to impart true wisdom. This is also an image of what John of the Cross calls the dark night of the senses, where God deprives the soul of the natural joys it used to take in created things to drive it toward Him.

"He was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him" (2-3).  It is in Christ's light, that the apostles are able to see Moses and Elijah and hear them conversing with Jesus. It is only in Jesus' light that they were able to fully understand the Law and the Prophets (Lk 24:44-45).
So there you are - after 34 years of reading and reflecting upon this event, I am reminded of how much more there is yet to see.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Book Review: "Secrets From Heaven"

Catholic Answers Press, well known for its apologetic works, continues to widen the scope of its mission. Their latest  offering, Secrets From Heaven, ventures into biblical interpretation - specifically the interpretation of Jesus' parables, healings, and select teachings. The author, Fr. Sebastian Walshe, holds a master's degree in theology and doctorate in philosophy and serves as the dean of studies at St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado, CA. After reading this book I find myself envious of his students, as Fr. Walshe's work is replete with insights I have not seen elsewhere.

We Christians really are so blessed to be part of the Church. The Father allows us to grow beyond our own limited power of understanding by learning from our siblings, endearing us to one another in the process. Secrets From Heaven contains Fr. Walshe's wonderful exegetical insights as well as the spiritual interpretations of the Church Fathers.

The best way to explain way to illustrate the power of this book is to simply take you through a chapter. I've chosen "Jairus and the Woman with the Hemorrhage. The chapter begins with Luke's account of the event (Lk 8:40-56). If you need a quick refresher: Jesus was approached by Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, to come and heal his twelve year old daughter who was dying. While on the way, a woman who had suffered with a flow of blood for twelve years touched the hem of Jesus' garment and was healed. By the time Jesus arrived at Jairus' home, the child had died; but the Lord raised her.

Father Walshe begins by looking at the events in relation to what has already occurred in Luke's gospel, contrasting Jairus with the centurion seeking healing for a servant in Luke's previous chapter:
"Both come to Jesus seeking the cure of a dying child. Both are rulers...Whereas the centurion has perfect faith, and so does not need Jesus to come to his home, Jairus has a weak faith, and so needs Jesus to come to his home" (p.113).
Father Walshe sees a powerful lesson here: 
"The weakness of Jairus' faith increases his own suffering. Had his faith been perfect like that of the centurion, there would have been no long and anxious journey back to his home, and his daughter would not have died along the way. 
        Our own defects in faith end up adding unnecessarily to our suffering in life. Often, Jesus wants to solve our problems right away, and he wants us to have confidence that they are solved as soon as we ask him (even when we can't see yet that they are solved) so that we can go about our lives in peace and joy. But we are the ones who limit his goodness: we insist on seeing the results we want right now; we insist on feeling Jesus' constant presence along the way; and consequently we pay the price" (p.113).
After a memorable personal illustration of that point, Father Walshe then delves into the literal sense of the text, or what Luke, writing in Greek in the first century, meant to communicate to his readers. And Fr. Walshe has a keen set of eyes! He begins with the "coincidence" of Jairus' daughter being twelve, the same number of years the woman had suffered from the flow of blood:
"[C]onsider this: in the same moment that Jesus says to the woman, Daughter, your faith hath made you whole, Jairus receives the news that his daughter has died. Read the passage again: [Jesus] said to her: Daughter, your faith hath made you whole; go your way in peace. As he was yet speaking, there came one to the ruler of the synagogue, saying to him: Your daughter is dead, trouble him not...If you had been present at the scene you would have heard it like this: 'Daughter your faith has made you whole...your daughter is dead'" (p.115).
WOW - what an incredible insight! Luke is my favorite gospel and yet, as many times as I've read it, I never made that connection. But there's more. (Pardon my underlining):
"[This] is the only time in all the Gospels that Jesus calls someone his daughter. Why here? Why now? In order to call Jairus's attention to the fact that he was not the only person there who had a daughter in need of healing. Twelve years before, this woman began to hemorrhage. As a result, the woman would have been made ritually unclean by her flow of blood, and therefore would certainly have been excluded from participating in the worship at the synagogue where Jairus was an official, lest she contaminate anyone who had the duty of sacred worship. Indeed, it seems likely that it was Jairus himself who excluded her from the worship at the synagogue, since he was the ruler there. For twelve years this woman was excluded from the house of her Father, while for twelve years Jairus enjoyed the company of his own daughter in his house....What was going on in [Jairus'] heart at this moment? Was he angry at [this woman] for holding Jesus up?...By causing Jairus to reflect on the condition of his own daughter, and upon the pain he now felt at being separated from her, Jesus willed to arouse in Jairus a new sense of compassion for this woman whom he had not recognized as God's daughter."
Fr. Walshe draws an application from this:
"[I]n our prayers we often ask from God the thing that we deny to others. And it is only when we recognize this fact that God will hear and answer our prayers...We ask for health, but we do not comfort the sick. We ask for friendship, but we do not offer friendship" (p. 116).
He sees other lessons for us, but for the sake of space I'll limit myself to one more - what caused Jairus and the woman to respond to Jesus with an imperfect faith:
"[They] seem to have some reason why they can trust in their own merits. Unlike the centurion, Jairus is a member of the Jewish people, and even a ruler of the synagogue; the woman is someone of substance who apparently started out with a lot of money that she ended up spending on doctors. They had something to hang their hat on other than the mercy of Christ. And so for them Jesus was not their first resort but their last resort.
        To the degree that we rely upon our own talents, natural gifts, worldly wealth, or status, to the same extent we will put Jesus last and end up resisting the seed of the word that Christ wants to plant and bear fruit in our hearts. And yet in the face of all this, we should take some consolation in this fact: that in spite of their imperfections, Jesus does eventually give them what they need" (p.117).
After plumbing the literal sense, Fr. Walshe turns to the spiritual sense as expounded by Sts. Bede and Ambrose:
"According to this allegory, Jairus, since he is the leader of the synagogue, represents the Jewish leaders. His daughter represents the Jewish people, and the woman with the hemorrhage represents the gentile people. Jairus daughter has lived for twelve years in the home of her father, and this signifies that the Jewish people have lived withing the Jewish church during the whole time of the covenant with the twelve tribes of Israel (Ex. 34:27). On the other hand, the gentiles were excluded from this covenant (unlike the covenants made with Adam and Noah that included all their descendants, Jew and Gentile alike). Thus, the woman is said to have a flow of blood for twelve years, to signify that during the time of the Mosaic covenant the gentiles were unclean and excluded from the assembly of God. During this time they spent all their substance on physicians, that is, they sought in vain for salvation from philosophy or false gods" (p.119).
Father Walshe goes into this allegory in some depth, and it is beautiful. He brings the chapter to a close by considering how we should personally be evangelized by this episode from the gospels and how we should take these lessons under consideration when sharing the Gospel with others.

Secrets From Heaven is a spiritual gem. I'll keep my eyes peeled for Fr. Walshe's next offering.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Book Review: Cardinal Newman's "Meditations on Mary, Our Mother"

I jumped at the chance to review this book. Two decades ago, I read TAN Book’s Mary: The Second Eve, a compendium of Newman’s apologetic writings on the Blessed Mother and was mesmerized by the way he showed that the earliest post-apostolic writings simply made explicit what was already present in the text of Scripture. His knowledge of the Fathers was voluminous. This new work assembled by TAN’s editorial team casts its net wider to bring together key points from Newman’s apologetics with his devotional thought.

As with all of his works, Meditations on Mary, Our Mother reminds us that Newman was a master of the English language. When we turn from him to modern works, we are reminded of how far we've fallen:
"[The saints'] acts, callings, and relations below, are types and anticipations of their present mission above...The only question is whether the Blessed Virgin had a part, a real part, in the economy of grace, whether, when she was on earth, she secured by her deeds any claim on our memories? If she did, it is impossible we should put her away from us, merely because she has gone hence, and should not look at her still according to the nature of her earthly history, with gratitude and expectation." (p.41)
Yes, Newman would have been a thorn in the side of many a modern editor. "But John, you have to remember that most books are written at a fifth grade level!"

Like TAN's previous compilation, Meditations on Mary, Our Mother displays Newman's brilliance as an apologist. It does not, however, contain the lengthy quotations from the Fathers present in the earlier work. Instead, as the title of this new collection indicates, we are treated to Newman's devotional thoughts, his effusions of love in honor of Our Lady:
"We must not only pray with our lips, and fast, and do outward penance, and be chaste in our bodies; but we must be obedient, and pure in our minds. And so, as regards the Blessed Virgin, it was God's will that she should undertake willingly and with full understanding to be the Mother of Our Lord, and not to be a mere passive instrument whose maternity would have no merit and no reward. The higher our gifts, the higher our duties. It was no light lot to be so intimately near to the Redeemer of men, as she experienced afterwards when she suffered with Him." (p.23)
Newman's apologetic thought circles around Mary's identity as the New Eve. He finds it in both Scripture (Genesis 3, John 19, Revelation 12) and the Church Fathers:
"...the parallelism is the doctrine of the Fathers, from the earliest times; and, this being established, we are able, by the position and office of Eve in our fall, to determine the position and office of Mary in our restoration." (p.17)
Newman notes this identification in the works of Justin Martyr (150 A.D.), Irenaeus (180) and Tertullian (200), men from different geographic regions. From this, he carefully reasons that this understanding had to form part of the original apostolic deposit. And from it he deduces a host of important points:
"Eve made room for Adam's fall, so Mary made room for our Lord's reparation of it. Thus, whereas the free gift was not as the offence, but much greater, it follows that, as Eve co-operated in effecting a great evil, Mary co-operated in effecting a much greater good." (p.19) 
"I do not see how anyone who holds the Catholic doctrine of the supernatural endowments of our first parents has fair reason for doubting our doctrine about the [immaculate conception of the] Blessed Virgin Mary...I ask: Have you any intention to deny that Mary was as fully endowed as Eve? Is it any violent inference, that she, who was to co-operate in the redemption of the world, at least was not less endowed with power from on high, than she who, given as a help-mate to her husband, did in the event but cooperate with him for our ruin?....There was war between the woman and the Serpent. This is most emphatically fulfilled if she had nothing ot do with sin - for, so far as anyone sins, he has an alliance with the Evil One." (p.67, 65, 72)
I could go on and on, but it's far better to read this gem of a book for yourselves. Reading Meditations on Mary, Our Mother is akin to ascending a height via an upward, circular path. Themes are revisited and built upon as you progress through the meditations. It is spiritual reading appropriate to any time in the liturgical year.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Tradition: Source of the Written Gospels

Years ago, when I was first reading the Epistle of James, a couple of verses in chapter five jumped out at me. James didn’t give any indication that he was quoting Jesus, but I clearly recalled the same words in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount:

Epistle of James
Gospel of Matthew
But above all, my brethren, do not swear either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your yes be yes and your no be no, that you may not fall under condemnation. (5:12)
Do not swear at all, either by heaven…or by the earth…Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from the Evil One. (5:34-37)
Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. (5:2-3)
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal (6:19)

Huh. Why didn’t James identify his source? Over the years, as I dug deeper into James’ epistle, I saw other places where he appeared to use Jesus’ words without any attribution. (Compare James 1:22 and Matthew 7:24; or James 3:12 with Matthew 7:16 and Luke 6:44.) What was going on here?

A couple of things occurred to me. The first was to realize that James, who was martyred in 62 A.D., probably composed his epistle in the late 40s or very early 50s – likely before Paul penned his first epistle and more than a decade before any of the gospels were written. Ironically, if I didn’t have those later gospels with which to compare James, I would never have known James was quoting the Lord! This leads to a second important realization: James wrote at a time when the Gospel existed purely in oral form, in Tradition.

That is extremely important, because Christianity was constituted, not as a religion of the book, but of the Word made flesh – alive and active in the ministry of the apostles. Jesus did not record his moral teaching or parables, nor write a monograph about the significance of his death and resurrection. Nor did he send forth the apostles with a command to write. Rather, his command was to make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them to observe all that He had commanded (Mt 28:18-20).

When the apostles preached, each drew from the Tradition those words and actions of Jesus that best met their individual audiences’ needs. It wasn’t necessary to stop and identify every time they quoted Jesus’ earthly teaching; because when James and the other apostles preached, it was received by the Church as Christ speaking in and through them (Lk 10:16).

Initially, their preaching focused upon Christ’s redemptive sacrifice and resurrection. But those required an explanation, and that was found in what preceded it – Christ’s life, teaching and miracles. Each apostle had his own recollections of Jesus and manner of recounting them, his own personality and theological emphases. [1]

We must keep this apostolic preaching in mind when reading the gospels, since the same principles hold true. Sacred Tradition – the deposit of truth entrusted to the apostles – was the source from which the four evangelists drew Christ’s words and actions in the construction of their narratives. Luke, who was not an eyewitness to Christ’s life, began his gospel by stating, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning…just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Lk 1:3,2). Even though the four evangelists were inspired, the Spirit did not spare them the effort required of all authors; and that meant digging into the Tradition Christ had entrusted to the Church.

Each gospel bears the mark of its human author. “Of the many elements [the four evangelists had] at hand they reported some, summarized others, and developed still others in accordance with the needs of the various churches.”[2]  This accounts for many of the so-called contradictions between the four gospels. The sequence, for instance, in which the evangelists narrate Christ’s life differs in some respects. This is not a challenge to a Catholic’s faith in the inerrancy of Scripture. The Church has always understood that the order in which the evangelists recounted Christ’s words and actions were not meant as a rigid assertion of chronology. Catholics are also not shocked to discover subtle differences in the wording of Christ’s sayings. We are used to reading modern historical texts, but the evangelists were inspired to write according to the conventions of their time. There were no audio recorders in the first century, and the apostles were not stenographers. When the sacred writers drew from the Tradition, they sometimes communicated the sense of Jesus’ words instead of exact quotations:

James 3:12
Matthew 7:16
Luke 6:44
Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs?
You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?
…for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.

The meaning asserted by each of the inspired authors is the same, even if the phrasing differs. Another example: When Jesus sends out the Twelve in Matthew 10:9-10, he tells them to take nothing for the journey, “no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food;” and yet in Mark 6:8-11 we read, “[Jesus] charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belt.” Whether Jesus said to take a staff or not, the memory drawn from the Tradition, and positively asserted by both inspired authors, was that Christ instructed the Twelve to look to God to supply their material needs. There is no true contradiction.

It’s funny how a couple of verses in James can lead to such heady subjects as inspiration and inerrancy and how Scripture is dependent upon Tradition – not just to be correctly interpreted, but to be written! That’s the way it was with God’s Revelation, though; it is all connected.

[1] Augustin Bea, The Study of the Synoptic Gospels: New Approaches and Outlooks (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 37.
[2] Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Historicity of the Gospels (1964), http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/pbcgospl.htm

Monday, March 2, 2020

"Can a Catholic Be a Socialist?" by Trent Horn & Catherine R. Pakaluk

I've made no secret of my enjoyment of Trent Horn's work. He has a tremendous knowledge base and is very effective at crafting and presenting his arguments to non-specialists. That last point is especially important given the topic of his latest book, socialism, and its embrace by such an alarming number of young people with little true understanding of the ideology. 

To answer the question Can A Catholic Be A Socialist?, Trent partners with Harvard-trained, Catholic University business professor and economist, Dr. Catherine R. Pakaluk. I think readers will find them to be a formidable team.

Pakaluk and Horn adeptly explain socialism's aim: "a centrally planned economic system that rejects the ownership of private property." After debunking the claim that Christ and the primitive Church taught and practiced socialism, the authors trace its true genesis to the writings of Marx and Engels. From there they take us through its incarnation in Russia, China, and their satellites, up to its slick rebranding under the Democratic Socialists of America (with its stars, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). It's an informative history, especially helpful for those born after the fall of the U.S.S.R. I, for one, was surprised to learn that the Democratic Socialists of America was founded by a close collaborator of Dorothy Day's, Michael Harrington. Harrington left the Church, embraced atheism, and worked to "rehabilitate" Marx’s teachings from what he considered communism's authoritarian perversion.

The Church's social justice teaching can seem monolithic to outsiders, but Horn and Pakaluk zero in on key concepts such as the right to private property and subsidiarity and show their applicability to the question of socialism. It's a nice way to wade into the body of papal teaching. There's also a helpful appendix on distributism (and why it isn't a viable option today).

I imagine that the bulk of people reading this review have already arrived at the conclusion that socialism is incompatible with Christianity. By the time you finish this book, however, you will be able to articulate why capitalism - with its possibilities for abuse - is an inherently more realistic system than socialism. You'll also be equipped with example after example to illustrate your points.  I appreciated the chapters dealing with the demise of the Venezualan economy and the lie of Nordic socialism perpetuated by the likes of Bernie Sanders. (Denmark's prime minister went so far as to issue a statement clarifying that, "Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy. The Nordic model is an expanded welfare state...[p.151])

I found Can A Catholic Be A Socialist? to be a page-turner, and I'm sure you will too.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Jesus "Groaned Deeply"

I have recently been thinking about our Lord's Sacred Heart; and because of that, I've been struck by the past week's Gospel readings. 

On Friday we heard how Jesus healed a man born deaf, and who had a speech impediment: "then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, 'Ephphatha!' (that is, 'Be opened!')" (Mk 7:34). On Saturday, in the account of Jesus feeding the four thousand, the Lord says, "My heart is moved with pity [splagxnízomai] for the crowd" (Mk 8:2). Jesus was moved in His "inward parts," in his "entrails." And now this morning we hear of His reaction to the Pharisees' demand for a sign: "He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, 'Why does this generation seek a sign?'" (Mk 8:12).

All of this reminds me of the need to remain engaged, to be a person of feeling. In all honesty, it's far to easy for me to put up walls, to interiorly distance myself, from the pain that surrounds me. It's a defense mechanism, for fear of being overwhelmed. But the danger is for that to become my default position instead of a defense. Yes, love is an act of the will; but in Christ we see it engaging His entire Person. I hear Christ's warning to the apostles about the difficult times ahead, "because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold" (Mt. 24:12). I don't want that to be me.

I'm not giving up, though. Because at the same time I hear the warning, I remember the promise: Jesus' gives us His Spirit, the very Love between the Father and the Son, to act in us. And just as Jesus groaned from the depths of His heart, so the Spirit both groans within us (Rom 8:26-27) and moves us to cry out to God from our depths (Rom 8:23; Gal 4:6). We are not left to our own strength.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Why the World Needs Fulton Sheen: An Interview with Peter Howard

It’s hard to spend ten minutes on Facebook without coming across at least two quotes from Archbishop Sheen:
“The devil may have his hour, but God will have His Day.” 
“There are not more than one hundred people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.”
You flip channels and there he is on EWTN. I hear him on local Catholic radio. My teen pulls him up on YouTube. With this kind of ongoing impact, the announcement of Sheen’s beatification was met with incredible excitement…that quickly gave way to frustration at news of a delay. To better understand this development, as well as Sheen’s ongoing impact upon the faithful, Catholic Exchange reached out to Dr. Peter Howard, one of the world’s foremost Sheen scholars and founder of the Fulton Sheen Institute.
Shane Kapler: Within a three week period we moved from the joyful announcement that Pope Francis had approved Archbishop Sheen’s beatification to the surprising announcement that the Diocese of Rochester had requested, and been granted, an indefinite delay of the beatification. Would you cast some light on the matter for CE’s readers and explain what will likely happen next?

Dr. Howard: First, we need Sheen now more than ever and this current saga over his beatification only confirms that he is the general the Church in America needs in this critical hour, and the devil does not want that. The facts of Sheen’s cause are the following: Sheen’s life has already undergone the most exhaustive investigation conducted by the highest levels of the Church in conjunction with the Diocese of Peoria. The conclusion: Fulton Sheen was declared to have lived a life of heroic virtue and worthy of the title “Venerable” (2012).

Since that time, the Congregation of Saints has approved a miracle that was obtained through Fulton Sheen’s intercession – a miracle authenticated by Pope Francis himself – which cleared the way for Sheen to be beatified (declared “Blessed”) by the Church. The liturgy (that was scheduled originally for Dec 21, 2019) was simply the occasion to proclaim what the Church has already declared as fact. That being the case, what followed afterward by the Diocese of Rochester and then by Rome is perplexing. Monsignor James Kruse, Vicar General of the Diocese of Peoria, has presented the facts and history surrounding Rome’s unprecedented decision to subordinate and surrender its own completed and adjudicated investigation of Sheen’s episcopal leadership to secular authorities. The history recounted by Kruse rather clearly points to certain US bishops sabotaging the cause of Fulton Sheen at every pivotal advance.

What will likely happen next? Rome will wait for the release of the NY AG report on the Diocese of Rochester and confirm what it already knew — that Sheen’s administrative record was clean; and the beatification will be rescheduled, provided Rochester doesn’t try another obstructionist stunt.

Kapler: Archbishop Sheen seems to have gained an incredible popularity among Catholics in their twenties and thirties, a generation who never heard him on radio or viewed his Life is Worth Living on ABC. To what do you attribute this phenomenon?

Dr. Howard: The young want to know how the Church and the world has arrived at what Sheen called this “apocalyptic” moment in history. The world has abandoned God and as a result has completely lost sense of reality. This younger generation is crying out: “Is there anyone out there who has clear answers to this ‘dark night’ of reason in the world and the vacuum of holiness and leadership that is in the Church?” Well, into this intellectually, morally and spiritually bankrupt civilization, God sends Sheen as a prophet for our times. Sheen provides a blueprint to lead the world—especially the Church in America—back to God and help this broken and wounded civilization discover anew what it means to be human made in the image of God.

The younger generations are searching for purpose and Sheen addresses them with clarity and in a language practically anyone can understand. He unfolds a path on which they will find their reason for living, starting with the most basic of questions: Why am I here? Should I believe in God? If so, which God? And how should that affect the way I live? What Sheen ultimately gives them is a complete itinerary of the Christian philosophy of life that will yield the fulfillment and happiness they seek.

When the young discover that the answers to their longings are found attractively in the life and teachings of Sheen, they choose him as their guide, their spiritual director, their spiritual father, their general. That is exactly what happened to me in my mid-twenties.

Kapler: Both the Church and the nation Sheen loved so dearly are passing through times of great strife and confusion. In a nutshell, what would be Sheen’s prescription for our malady?

Dr. Howard: Well, Sheen first had to diagnose the malady and it boils down to civilization rejecting God, Catholics progressively leaving their moral, spiritual and missionary Christian duties unfulfilled, and then trying to build a new and false humanity and world order in which man has sought to remake God in its own image. As a result, humanity has become completely disordered in body, mind, and spirit. And for America, in particular, Sheen emphasized it has a spiritual void over which today’s cultural battle is being fought. America must rediscover its soul, find its true heart and return to its true Christian roots, or its end is imminent.

Sheen’s prescription for rebuilding the Church and for America to find its soul is threefold. The first is anthropological: The Church and the nation must rediscover what it means to be made in the image of God. The second is philosophical: The Church and America must reject the atheism and materialism of Marxism in all its forms. (It has progressively permeated and contaminated all aspects of American society.) The third is spiritual: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution created a spiritual vacuum that had to be filled. The Catholic Church needed to step in and fill it, but did not really begin to do so until Fulton Sheen. Sheen was emphatic that the Church in America (priests and laity alike) needed to be rebuilt upon the spiritual foundations of adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist and a true devotion to Mary. Sheen lived these through his daily commitment to the Eucharistic holy hour, his lived consecration to Mary’s Immaculate Heart and daily recitation of the Holy Rosary.

Kapler: Your book, The Woman, is the most in-depth study of Sheen’s Mariology to date. With the Marian title of “co-redemptrix” recently in the news, how do Sheen’s insights serve the Church’s perennial desire to better understand Our Lady’s role in our lives?

Dr. Howard: Sheen’s understanding and teaching on the role of Our Blessed Mother is refreshing because it is profoundly biblical and intimately personal. The more we understand the Blessed
Mother in terms of her relationship to God, the more we understand about her relationship to us, and the more connected we find ourselves to her love and care of us. For example, “co-redemptrix” is a rich theological term which literally means “a woman who is a co-worker in God’s plan of redemption.” In other words, “a woman who co-redeems.” This is a loaded theological subject. However, it can be simply understood as Sheen explains it one of two ways: The first is in relation to what took place at the Annunciation. God asked Mary to give Him a human nature by which and through which He would suffer, die and redeem humanity. From that moment, Mary became inseparable to God’s plan of redeeming humanity’s and therefore God’s unique “coredemptrix”.

According to Sheen, the Church is the “mystical prolonging” of the mystery of the Incarnation in the life of every Christian. In other words, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we “re-live” the historical life of Christ, which began at the Annunciation, when He chose Mary to be His Mother and Mary said, “Fiat” to begin a new creation (as God’s first creation began with His word, “Fiat.”). From the moment the Word became Flesh in Mary, she raised and nurtured our Redeemer throughout His life. And when His earthly life was in its last moments on the Cross, He gave Mary to be the mother of all who would be “born again” (or “born from above”) and have Christ now live in and through them as He did when He first came, with, in and through Mary.

So, for Sheen, the second way to understand Mary’s role as co-redemptrix in the most personal terms is Mary’s maternal role as the “New Eve”. What Eve was to the original humanity, the mother of all living, Mary is to all who live in Christ. As Adam’s physical, generative powers to increase the human race were united inseparably to Eve, so are the Divine generative and redemptive powers of Christ, the New Adam, united completely and inseparably to Mary, the New Eve (Christ called her “woman” at the Cross to make this reality clear). At the Cross Mary mystically assumes her role as the Mother of all who partake in the “new humanity.” Christ’s historical life began when the Holy Spirit mystically united Himself to Mary at the Annunciation. We enter into Christ’s life at baptism, receiving Mary as our mother to form and nurture us with the Holy Spirit, so that Jesus can fully live in us. In short, as Mary was to Christ the Head during his earthly life, so she is to His Mystical Body, the Church, and every Christian in it.

Kapler: Part of your mission at the Fulton Sheen Institute is bringing the Archbishop’s wisdom and wit directly to the people. If a parish or conference wanted to schedule you to speak, how would they go about that, and what could they expect?

Dr. Howard: What Sheen prescribed to our wounded world as the three-fold path back to Jesus Christ, the Healer, is at the very heart, purpose and mission of the Fulton Sheen Institute. Through live speaking events, retreats, parish missions, podcasts, webinars, online mini-courses and live intensive course immersions, the Fulton Sheen Institute brings the wisdom of Fulton Sheen to this generation’s most pressing questions: What’s the purpose and meaning of life? What’s wrong with the world and how do we fix it? How can we rebuild our nation and our Church upon a culture of life, based on the full truth about God, man and creation? As Fulton Sheen put it, “In this error infested world, what we need is a church and an authority that’s right. Not right when the world is right. But one that is right when the world is wrong.”

This “saint for our times” is a saint for all the world, but right now the Fulton Sheen Institute is especially focused on the United States. It’s here that he was given his special mission, and Catholic Americans must understand why. I am very excited to announce that the key event offered by the Fulton Sheen Institute in 2020 is “Visions of Our Future: Fulton Sheen’s Plan for a Great America.” This event  is an engaging 3-hour event that goes right to the heart of the cultural war in America today… a war that Ven. Fulton Sheen prophesied over 80 years ago! In it we’ll discuss the enemy we’re up against, the true meaning of freedom, the choice we face in America today, the critical role the Eucharist must play in turning America back to God, and how America’s special relationship with Our Blessed Mother is our greatest hope. Through Sheen’s insights, dialed in to God’s wisdom, we’ll discover America’s true path to greatness, and the hope that our best years are still ahead.

During this most critical election year, I invite you to discover Fulton Sheen’s prophetic vision for a great America. Book now for our evening event “Visions of Our Future” at fultonsheen.institute/booking

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Pentecost...It's All There!

Gerber baby, Ann Cook Turner at 91
Pentecost is often spoken of as the "birth" of the Church. It's an apt metaphor: The Church, which had been growing en utero you could say, in the persons of Mary, the Twelve, and the small community of disciples, now emerges into the world. And when she does, we can already glimpse all of the distinguishing features by which she will be known as an adult.

The Church’s most obvious feature is that she is Charismatic – she has received the Gift, the Holy Spirit, and the manifold gifts He bestows, as evidenced by the charisms of tongues and preaching. Receiving the Holy Spirit as the common Gift of the Father and the Son (Acts 2:33-36) also immediately distinguishes her as Trinitarian. She is not a political body or social service but a living Tabernacle, making pilgrimage to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.

The Church that the Spirit rushed upon in tongues of fire is also Marian, Apostolic, and Petrine. We find her gathered in prayer with the Mother of Jesus – the Church's strong, silent backbone. Just as the Spirit overshadowed Mary and formed Christ within her womb, so He overshadowed the nascent community. birthing them as the Body of Christ into the world.

She is built upon the Twelve. The apostolic "office" left vacant by Judas' defection and death had to be filled before she began her mission to the world (Acts 1:15-26). And it was Peter, designated first among Christ’s apostles (Mt 10:2; 16:17-20), who lead the Church in this first act of apostolic succession. It was Peter who stood up “with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and address[ed]” the crowd (2:14).

And the sermon that Peter preached that first day, identifying how Jesus fulfilled the words of the Psalms and Prophets, established the Church as Scriptural – she constantly reflects upon and proclaims God’s written word. She is also Christocentric in her reading of Scripture; it all speaks of the Lord Jesus. But Peter’s preaching was not an end in itself. It led the crowd to cry out, “What shall we do?”; and Peter’s response that they must “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:37-39). The Church is not just Scriptural but Sacramental.

Even though all who received baptism that day were Jews, the fact that they had traveled to Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), intimated the acceptance of the Gentiles. It was a Catholic Church.

After almost two thousand years, the Church has grown and matured; Even though all who received baptism that day were Jews, the fact that they had traveled to Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), intimated the acceptance of the Gentiles. It was a Catholic Church.

After almost two thousand years, the Church has grown and matured. Her doctrine, liturgy, and works have continued to develop, to deepen; but for anyone who gazes closely at her “baby picture” –the Pentecost narrative – she is easy to recognize. The Catholic Church of today remains the Mystical Body of Christ, gestated throughout the earthly life of Mary and Jesus and born into the world on Pentecost.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

James, Wisdom, and the New Testament Canon

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.” – James 1:5

Wisdom, the God-given ability to properly act upon knowledge – that is what Christians seek. I would suggest that wisdom has a great deal to do with Christian unity. Once we gain the knowledge God affords us, it will be processing and acting upon that knowledge in the correct way – exercising wisdom – that will restore Christian unity. A better knowledge of the formation of the New Testament canon affords us just such an opportunity. In this article we’ll chart the Church’s reception of the Epistle of James as a case study in the canon and the life changing wisdom to which such knowledge leads us.

The twenty-seven texts that make up the New Testament were inspired the instant they issued from their authors’ quills, but it took approximately three hundred years for them to be recognized as the closed collection we know today. Initially, a local church would have only possessed the New Testament document composed for them or their immediate neighbors. The printing press was fourteen hundred years away. Copies had to be made by hand and walked to their destination. As works began to circulate, it was natural for communities receiving new texts to question the tradition standing behind them. In some places, the testimony to certain works suffered. 

Our first witnesses to the authority of the Epistle of James are indirect. Clement, the third bishop of Rome, after the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, borrowed heavily from James in chapter 30 of his Epistle to the Corinthians (c. AD 95). Scholarship is also able to say that Hermas (the brother of Pius, the ninth Bishop of Rome) also made use of James in the first and third sections of his work The Shepherd (c. 140).  Christianity’s first stab at a NT canon, however, the Muratorian Fragment (c. 155), failed to include James. (Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, and 3 John are also missing, with the Apocalypse of Peter substituted in.)

We have to wait until the third century for evidence of James being explicitly referred to as Scripture. Around AD 200, Clement of Alexandria included James, along with the Apocalypse of Peter, Epistle of Barnabas, and the twenty-six other books making up today’s NT, in his attempt at a biblical canon.  Approximately forty years later, Origen, Christianity’s first great biblical scholar, referred to James as “divine scripture” and identified its author as an “apostle” and “brother” of the Lord.  

James place in the NT was still far from solidified. At the beginning of the fourth century, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, the father of Church history, identified texts as falling into one of three categories: accepted, disputed, and spurious; James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John belonged to the second group. Pope Marcellus quoted James 3:1-8 as the words of the “Apostle James” in his Letter to the Bishops in the Province of Antioch (AD 308). St. Cyril of Jerusalem and the local Council of Laodicea (c. 363) included James in their canons of Scripture (excluding only the Book of Revelation); and yet, the Cheltenham Canon, written in Africa c. 360, omitted James, as well as Hebrews, 2 Peter, Jude, 2 and 3 John.

The great watershed moment in the history of the New Testament was St. Athanasisus’ Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter. The Easter letter penned by this bishop and champion of orthodoxy in 367 A.D. was the first time that all twenty-seven books of the New Testament – and only those twenty-seven books – were listed together. This same canon was affirmed by the local Council of Hippo (393), St. Augustine in his On Christian Doctrine (397), and the local Council of Carthage (419).  The latter, attended by St. Augustine and over two hundred bishops, ruled that, “besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read under the name of divine Scripture.” They then listed the forty-six books of the Old Testament and twenty-seven of the New, ending with, “For the confirmation of this canon, the church across the sea [i.e., Rome] is to be consulted.”  Pope Boniface’s subsequent approval of their directives effectively settled the question of the canon until it was reopened by Luther.

This brief history of James’ acceptance among Christians serves as a case study in the formation of the New Testament. James, originally written to Jewish-Christians, was recopied and carried by hand to distant communities (composed of Jews and Gentiles) such as Rome and Alexandria. Over the next two hundred years, some who received the epistle questioned its provenance. Those bishops in whose churches James had been handed down as an apostolic work and proclaimed in the liturgy gave authoritative witness to the tradition they had received. That witness was accepted by their brother bishops and a consensus was reached. In union with their head, the Bishop of Rome, they delineated which books were to be regarded as Scripture in the Church. The bishops’ apostolic authority was the Holy Spirit’s instrument for giving the canon of Scripture to the Christian faithful.

That has serious repercussions for anyone who looks to the Bible as a source of God’s Revelation, because whenever a Christian recognizes the New Testament as a closed, fixed body of literature, he implicitly acknowledges the Catholic bishops’ authority to speak for Christ. And if the bishops spoke on Christ’s behalf to authoritatively settle the canon of Scripture, then on what grounds do we deny their authority to interpret it? You see, all of the key figures in the formation of the canon were unabashedly Catholic. They clearly taught that:

  • Bishops are the successors of the apostles (Clement of Rome, Hermas, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, Augustine)
  • the bread and wine of the Eucharist are transformed into Jesus’ body and blood, making present His sacrifice (Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyril, Athanasius, Augustine)
  • serious sin must be confessed to God through the ministry of the presbyters (Origen, Athanasius, Augustine);
  • final salvation is not just a matter of faith, but works (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine)
  • the souls of the dead often require further purification and benefit from our prayers (Cyril of Jerusalem, Augustine)

None of these great lights saw any opposition between such beliefs and the teaching of Scripture. In fact, these beliefs were integral to Christianity long before congregations were equipped with a twenty-seven book New Testament! Such knowledge is life-changing, and acting upon it can heal centuries of division within Christianity. Such knowledge can be difficult to act upon, though. Often times, it requires great humility and sacrifice. I will give James the final word, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord” (Js 1:5-8).