Monday, March 26, 2007

Catholics and Protestants: The Fundamental Difference

Cross-posted from The Counsel of Trent:



As it so happens, I'm currently composing a post on why I became Catholic in response to many requests. You ask "Could you elucidate why you left protestantism and turned to catholicism?"

As a philosopher I first have to give the obvious answer: because I think the Claims of the Catholic Church regarding her authority are true and incompatible with Protestantism. Note that I designate a sub-class of claims of the Catholic Church, namely those regarding the Church's authority. Most claims of the Church are perfectly compatible with Protestantism (well, with magisterial Protestantism anyway, part of the problem is that there are like 30,000 (literally) different protestant denominations (if you count all the independent ones separately) so making claims about what "Protestants" believe can be tricky: most Catholic doctrine is compatible with Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Evangelical beliefs).

What Mother Kirk claims is that she is the fullest expression of the visible Church on Earth and that the Bishop of Rome is the final authority in matters of the Faith and governance of the Church. The basis for this claim is the doctrine of Apostolic Succession. I've got a brief summary of some evidence for this doctrine here, and am working on a draft of a fuller argument. So the basic claims of the Church are as follows:
1. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, promised in the Old Testament, and expanding his plan to we Gentiles.
2. Jesus founded a visible Church to carry on his teachings and selected the Apostles to govern this body.
3. Peter was the Chief of the Apostles as witnessed by Peter's divine anointing and unique reception of the Keys of the Kingdom (Matt 16) which represent the vice-regent of the King, his special relationship with Jesus ("feed my sheep," Gospel of John, Chatper 21), and his authoritative pronouncement at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).
4. The Apostles anointed new leaders--called Bishops (episkopos in the Greek New Testament)--and when an Apostle died, someone took their place (just like occurred with the loss of Judas at the beginning of The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament).
5. The line of Apostolic Succession has never been broken.

The doctrine of Salvation among Catholics and Mainline and (many or most) Evangelical Protestants are essentially the same (no more differences than among some Protestants): we are given the Gift of Faith to trust in the finished work of Christ in atonement for our sins. The rest is details.

As a Protestant I already accepted #1 of course, but gradually came to believe the rest of them as well. There's much, much more to the story, but a sufficient condition for my becoming Catholic was being rationally persuaded of #'s 2-5 (in addition to #1).

This is just the bare bones and only states the minimum sufficient condition, so stay tuned for a more robust answer. Hope that helps.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hockey Saints

Frank is too modest to post this himself. If I make it back to Saint Louis, I'm in like Flynn.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Polytheism, Monotheism, and Henotheism

What could be farther apart than monotheism and polytheism, right? Weeeellllll, not so fast.

After all the largest body of monotheists by far is Catholics and polytheism is "pagan" and after all the main line of the Church has always been happy to baptize the pagan. As C.S. Lewis points out in his great essay "Myth Become Fact" Catholicism is the completion of paganism, not its negation. It completes it in that the myths become incarnate if facts when The Word becomes incarnate if The Flesh.

Just as Jesus said of the Jewish Law: "I come not to abolish it, but to fulfill it" (Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 17) likewise he did not come to abolish paganism, but to fulfill it. Sure, there's "bad paganism" which involves human sacrifice and the like, but what I have in mind is good old fashioned nature-based paganism: the deep spiritual connection with the earth and her rhythms.

When the Apostle Paul went to Athens to talk to the philosophers he ended up at a temple of various gods. He didn't tell them they were completely mistaken and going to Hell. He just said he wanted to fill in their knowledge of what they were doing.

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. (Book of Acts, Chapter 17, verse 22)

So in the tradition of bridge building which Jesus imparted to the Apostle Paul and to the Catholic Church in general, I want to question the divide between monotheism and polytheism. The meditation could also demonstrate the power of words to shape our thoughts.

One of the words for "one" (as a prefix) in Greek is "mono" another is "heno". Both serve as prefixes for a kind of theism. Monotheism refers to the belief in one deity only. Henotheism refers to the belief in a heirarchical array of deities with one which is on top. Now lets think about what it was to be a deity according to the ancient Greeks. The two main properties of deity were A. immortality, B. supernatural power, i.e. power over the ordinary course of natural events.

Notice, though, that angels have both these properties. Angels never die and they have power over natural events, they can do things in nature which would not happen by themselves, they can perform little miracles which suspend the ordinary course of nature. The word "angelos" in Greek just means "messenger". The Greek prefex "eu-" means "good" like a "eulogy" or "good words" said about someone at the time of their death. 'u' and 'v' are interchangeable in classical languages most of the time so the word "evangelst" is just "eu" (good) + "evangelon" (news), a bearer of good news, a messenger with a happy message.

So angels have the functional properties the Greeks would have considered deity. If you described some of the things angels are described as doing in Sacred Scripture and are believed by the Catholic Church to be able to do to an ancient Greek, he'd clearly have thought of the angel as a god. So using pagan terminology angels are just lesser gods, and according to Saint Thomas Aquinas--the "Angelic Doctor"--angels are arranged hierarchically.

And of course there are also the Saints. The saints also qualify as deities according to ancient Greek standards. To become a Saint the Church has to decide that one has been responsible for three miracles. And consider C.S. Lewis's insightful comments from his essential essay "The Weight of Glory":

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit...It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as your now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

And this should come as no surprise, for great Catholic theologian Saint Maximos the Confessor taught the doctrine of deification or theosis:

"A sure warrant for looking forward with hope to deification of human nature is Provided by the incarnation of God, which makes man god to the same degree as God Himself became man." and "let us become the image of the one whole God,
bearing nothing earthly in ourselves, so that we may consort with God and become gods, receiving from God our existence as gods." (PHILOKALIA Volume II)

And there's lots more where this came from. No, to be sure, Catholics believe that the Divine Trinity is the Ground of Being in a way that no other being can be. God is the original, we are the copies. Still, we are copies of *God*.

Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'?" (Gospel of John, Chapter 10, verse 34; quoting Psalm 82:6, 6 "I said, 'You are "gods"; you are all sons of the Most High.')

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Tomb Scmoomb

New York Times has good article today on the Jesus Tomb hoax (it's shaping up to be a perfect sequal to the James Tomb hoax). Here's an insighful comment:

And his logic can seem like circular — to the point of fallacious — reasoning.
“The idea of finding Jesus’ tomb might not seem so outlandish if we could locate tombs belonging to his followers,” Mr. Jacobovici says to his crew.
Soon after he adds, “Although we found ourselves in the wrong tomb, perhaps these finely crafted ossuaries, so close to the Talpiot tomb, are somehow connected to Jesus or his followers.”
In other words, because this is Jesus’ tomb, the nearby tombs are likely those of his followers; because those nearby tombs are likely those of his followers, this must be the tomb of Jesus.

full story