Appendix 3-Uncarnated Worship

Overcompensation is a huge problem for us.  As creatures in time and space we tend to overcorrect like a swaying ship, a swinging pendulum, or a husband in trouble.  This has happened with Protestantism’s view of worship.  In an attempt to avoid empty religiosity and outward false piety, some of Protestantism has taken an almost Gnostic approach to worship. There are those in Protestantism that reject most corporal, physical, or material means of worship.  This is an obstacle facing Catholics and Orthodox worshipping with Protestants because the two great historic Churches are so grounded in incarnational theology that the reduction of worship to merely songs and hand raising feels impoverished.  We want to worship like humans, not angels, for we are body and soul and profess the Incarnate Lord.  I believe this is also a source of the uneasiness Protestants feel regarding relics and Sacraments, especially the Mass.

Certainly we are called to worship God in Spirit and Truth (cf. John 4:20-24) and the interior disposition is essential for worship, “For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, cf. Matt. 9:13).  For without love of God and repentant hearts we are like the Pharisees, “like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth… on the outside [appearing] righteous, but inside … filled with hypocrisy and evildoing” (Matt. 23:27-28).

However, a spiritual interior disposition and vibrant material, sensory, corporal worship through ritual are not mutually exclusive.  We must not be like the Son who says he will go to the vineyard but does not (cf. Matt. 21:28-31).  Our worship needs to take form.  Throughout the Gospel’s Christ commends fasting as a physical accompaniment to prayer, almost a prayer of the body.   He also engages in very physical healings (cf. John 9:6), and we are told to anoint our sick (cf. James 5:14).  The laying on of hands is not only a ritual, but one that Paul tells Timothy to not do lightly (cf. 1 Tim. 5:22).  Jesus participated in Jewish ritual worship in the Gospels.  He “fell prostrate in prayer” (Matt. 26:39).

For the Catholic and Orthodox all of this finds its apex in the Eucharistic Liturgy.  It is in that communal prayer of the gathered church that we pray with our bodies through posture and lift our voices in song.  We find again the celebration of the Last Supper — the first Passover meal of the New Covenant (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-32).  We hear, echoed through eternity, Christ’s words of utmost bodily worship, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).  It is in the liturgy that we find the altar we seek reconciliation before approaching (cf. Matt. 5:23-24).  It is where we find the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy that from East to West a [Todah] sacrifice will be offered (cf. 1:11).  And, yes, it is where my greatest contribution is a sincere and repentant heart (Psalm 51:17).  In the liturgy we find ourselves devoted to what the early church was devoted to, “the teaching of the apostles, communal life, breaking of the bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  This is not something supplemental for us, it is the source and summit of our worship (CCC 1324).

See, invisibility does not grant immunity from emptiness.  Just as I can go through hollow motions at Mass someone can sing praise based off of self-serving fleeting emotions or raise their hands to fit in or draw attention.  Simultaneously, just as someone can let their guard down by singing “Amazing Grace” I can truly open my heart by feeling the corpus (body) on the crucifix. Our salvation came from the union of Creator with creation. We would do well to not confuse that with being saved from creation.

Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 4)

9. Permanent Imputation vs Temporary Infusion

I have limited knowledge of how imputation differs across the various Protestant sects, especially when coupled or divorced from regeneration.   So I want to avoid the mischaracterizations I’m responding to now. I do know that Catholicism rejects the God of band-aid solutions for the God whose word never returns to Him void.  He is the God of Mercy not self deceit.  This reality is expressed in Catholicism’s belief in both imputation and infusion.  Catholicism does not reject imputation entirely, we reject the idea of mere imputation.  We place our faith in the paradoxical God who is three and one; the savior who is God and Man, eternal and mortal; the Scriptures that are of human and divine origin, the Church that is human institution and mystical body.  So yes, we accept the paradoxical view that we are righteous sinners, or as a friend put it, “I am a loved sinner, in that order.” White describes it well and the interpretive key is childhood – restoration to the covenant family:

In short, justification in the Catholic view is the gift of divine sonship, lost in original sin, and regained in Christ. Justification understood in this way involves both the imputation of sonship and the infusion of Christ’s grace. These two aspects are inseparable, for as God imputes family standing to the sinner, the sinner does in fact become a member of the family; sonship is no legal fiction. God effectuates what He declares. Hence, when God declares the sinner righteous, it is more than a mere legal declaration. It is a creative and transformative action whereby God takes someone and breathes into Him that Spirit of sonship which cries, “Abba!” “Father!” Gratuitous, therefore, means more than the receipt of divine favor. What God imparts in the gift of grace is Himself, nothing less, and this life-giving divine gift is a metaphysical, ontological communication of Christ’s sonship. This internal renovation is essential. For individuals are both imputed with Adam’s guilt and infused with his corrupt nature; they are declared sinful, and at the same time, they really are sinful. Hence, justified persons are both imputed with Christ’s righteousness and infused with His life; they are declared righteous because, in virtue of Christ’s indwelling life and holiness, they really are righteous. The remission of sins is possible because the grace of Christ is infused into the person, making him a child of God. By virtue of this new filial relationship, the individual is no longer subject to the wrath of God. God’s judgment then, is directed towards a child in the second Adam, and not a rebel criminal in the first Adam. This helps explain why justified persons need not be perfect themselves; they are justified by virtue of their new relationship to God as sons. The judgment is taking place then with regard to Christ’s grace alive in the individual, at whatever degree of growth; the indwelling grace of Christ justifies sinners. (White, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, 4-5)

Now Challies emphasizes the ‘temporary’ for some reason.  My guess is he believes the common Protestant stereotypes that Catholics live in a perpetual state of fear of Hell or that we think we have to earn God’s love.  While Catholics, along with the witness of Scripture, take seriously that: some sins are deadly (1 John 5:16), without fruit we can be taken away (John 15:20), we can be removed after being grafted (Rom. 11:17-24), we can be disqualified after preaching (1 Cor. 9:24-27), we can twist the Scripture to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:16), we can be among the goats on His left (Matt. 25:41-46),  or we can be told that we aren’t known (Matt. 7:21-23) we don’t see those as threats to consume us with fear.  For though these are possible after enlightenment and the tasting of heavenly gifts, we are strongly encouraged and anchored by our God who cannot lie (cf. Heb. 6).  See how Trent articulates that reality:

For God does not command impossibilities, …(St. Augustine, De Natura et Gratia, c. 43 (50))  His commandments are not heavy,(cf. 1 John 5:3) and his yoke is sweet and burden light.(Matt. 11:30)  For they who are the sons of God love Christ, but they who love Him, keep His commandments, as He Himself testifies;(John 14:23) which, indeed, with the divine help they can do.… For God does not forsake those who have been once justified by His grace, unless He be first forsaken by them.  Wherefore, no one ought to flatter himself with faith alone, thinking that by faith alone he is made an heir and will obtain the inheritance, even though he suffer not with Christ, that he may be also glorified with him.(Rom. 8:17)  … the same Apostle admonishes those justified, saying: Know you not that they who run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain. I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty; I so fight, not as one beating the air, but I chastise my body and bring it into subjection; lest perhaps when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.(cf. 1 Cor. 9:24, 26)  So also the prince of the Apostles, Peter: Labor the more, that by good works you may make sure your calling and election. For doing these things, you shall not sin at any time. (cf. 2 Pet. 1:10)

Following this last scripture passage cited by Trent, I believe it wise to present one of the most succinct scriptural articulations of Catholic Soteriology:

His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power: Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted, forgetful of the cleansing of his past sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble. For, in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you. (2 Peter 1:3-11)

If one wants to claim that Catholic Soteriology is unbiblical 2 Peter must be struck from the Bible first.

Wrap up: The principle problem with this Litany of ‘Additions’ is that they aren’t additions at all.  Instead they are recognitions of how God chose to work.  Catholicism is not guilty of piling junk upon the Gospel.  Protestantism has instead cut away from the Gospel.  It took the glorious Gospel of the transcendent I Am and reduced it to the courtroom proclamation of a self-deceiving, seemingly insecure God.

Justification, in the Catholic sense, is the restoration of that sonship through the second Adam, Jesus Christ; sinners are reborn through baptism as sons of God. In this process, justification is purely gratuitous. The Holy Spirit works in the sinner, effectuating in him an orientation towards faith and good works. Through baptism, he is imputed standing in God’s family and infused with Christ’s grace. Justification then, involves both the legal remission and the actual removal of sin. The forgiveness of sins is possible precisely because the justified person stands in a new relationship to God as a son. Because the grace of Christ is in him, original sin is blotted out, actual sins are remitted, and grace is continually imparted to overcome concupiscence. The justified person continually seeks to obtain “sanctifying grace” through the sacraments (which in the case of adults, are useless without real faith) and by doing good works. In this sense, individuals are justified by works as well as faith, but always by grace alone and Christ alone. Justification is a process, therefore, whereby higher standing is progressively conferred upon children growing up. (White, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, 8).

What is the Catholic Gospel you ask?

Jesus Christ is the Gospel.  He is the good news.  He is the Messiah.  The incarnate Word of God who has entered into solidarity with us so He may draw us into communion with Himself and, through Him, all those He loves.

His body is the Gospel.  For by His body in the womb of Mary He bridged the divide between divinity and humanity.  In His body that wandered around the Jordan He overcame our temptations of the flesh, the world, and the Devil.  By the sacrifice of His body He ransomed us from exile, bringing us — as our goel (kinsman redeemer) — back into the family, paying for us a price we could not pay.   As the true older brother who reflects the Father He restored an inheritance that we lost (cf. Luke 15:11-32).  Through the resurrection of His body He overcame our otherwise insurmountable enemy – death — and transformed the dead end of mortality into the door to eternity.  In His body, the Church, He guides us on our pilgrimage from Egypt to the Promised Land – the Heavenly Jerusalem.  And by His body He nourishes us, sustains, and feeds us, providing our “food for the way” (cf. 1 Kings 19:7).

The heart of the Gospel is that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.  And while we were still sinners He died for us, entering into death to defeat it.  It is because he first had this love for us that we can love.  Love has loved us and freed us to love.  That is good news.

Next Post:
Claim 2: The “Roman” Catholic Church is not the Church

“On the Feast of Stephen…”

Reflection on the Feast of Stephen, first martyr: Scripture Readings

Here we are, the day after Christmas.  This is a time for joy, cheer, good company, and martyrdom.  Yup, the day after celebrating the nativity of adorable little baby Jesus we have the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr (makes sense why Good King Wenceslaus is a Christmas carol now).  This begs the question, “What’s the deal Church?  Why celebrate the feast of the first Christian martyr the day after Christmas?  Can’t we just get a couple days of cute baby action?”  Obviously the answer is no, but I want to spend our reflection this morning exploring why the Church might celebrate the feast of Stephen the day after Christmas. Continue reading ““On the Feast of Stephen…””

Revolution of Grace

Remember, remember the 5th of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot,
I can think of no reason, the gunpowder treason,
Should ever be forgot.

I don’t give weight to the revolutionary that sneaks under the places of authority, but is raised above them.
Nor do I follow a revolutionary that calculates the right time to destroy, instead I follow one who sought the right time to fulfill and restore.
I reject the revolutionary that factors how many to kill, but follow the revolutionary that held back his whole host.
I turn from the revolutionary that views death as an instrument, and pursue the revolutionary that sees death as the enemy.

In remembering the Gunpowder Treason, I don’t see merely Guy Fawkes, but our human revolutions and they stand in stark contrast with the revolution of the Incarnation, Divine Love become Flesh; a revolution not merely from the bottom up, but from the top down to the bottom and back up again.  This was a revolution that didn’t result in victory through death, but victory over death!

There have been so many revolutions in history, many indeed.  Yet none of them has had the force of this revolution that brought Jesus to us: a revolution to transform history, a revolution that changes the human heart in depth.  The revolutions of history have changed political and economic systems, but none has changed the human heart.  True revolution, the revolution that radically transforms life, was brought about by Jesus Christ through his resurrection.  Benedict XVI said of this revolution that “it is the greatest mutation in the history of humanity.” … In this day and age, unless Christians are revolutionaries, they are not Christians.  They must be revolutionaries through grace! (Papa Frank, Address to the Participants in the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome, 17 June 2013).

What about Mary? – Part II: Theotokos

“Theotokos derives from the Greek terms: Theos / ‘God’; and tiktein / ‘to give birth’. Mary is the Theotokos, the one who gave birth to God” (What is the meaning of Mary’s title: Theotokos?).  In English we tend to refer to this Dogma as “Mary the Mother of God.”  Both formulations of this teaching are profitable for us and we will visit each briefly.

Here is a brief articulation of the teaching:

Called in the Gospels “the mother of Jesus,” Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43).  In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity.  Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly “Mother of God” (Theotokos). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 495)

So let’s apply the Marian Principle as I articulated in my previous post:

Principle 1: Is It True?

Is it true to call Mary the Mother of God or Theotokos?  Yes.  No one would deny that she is the mother of Jesus and as it is an orthodox confession of faith to say that Jesus is one person comprised of a fully human nature and fully divine nature, then, by virtue of how people give birth to persons and not natures, we can call her the Mother of God.  This shouldn’t cause confusion about her “predating” the Holy Trinity because birth is inherently tied to material existence and there is no way a material reality can predate God, so no she didn’t birth the Trinity.

Nor do we need to fear calling her the Mother of God because a pagan goddess or two might have shared that title.  First:

there are radical differences between the myths about divine births to pagan goddesses (e.g. Isis, mother of Horus) and the gospel accounts of Jesus’ incarnation in Mary. For example, the Gospels portray Jesus as conceived by Mary in Spirit while pagan myths portray the conception of gods in passion and removed from the mysterious destiny of the Incarnation.” (What is the meaning of Mary’s title: Theotokos?)

The front has Tiberius Caesar with the inscription … “Tiberius, Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Augustus” … Since the father of Tiberius (Octavian, Augustus Caesar) had been declared a god by the Roman Senate, Tiberius claimed to be the Son of God.
The inscription reads “Tiberius, Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Augustus” Tiberius’ father was declared a god thus the emperor that was Jesus’ contemporary claimed the title, Son of God.

Second, are we willing to follow that line of thought to the point of denying Christ His title, Son of God, because it was attributed to some Roman Emperors, including Augustus and his son, Tiberius, who was ruling at the time of Christ?  I doubt it.

Principle 2: What Does It Tell Us About Mary?

There are two things I take away from this about Mary.

Not Mary, just saying.

One, she was elected for the high honor of sharing her humanity and her flesh with the Second Person of the Trinity.  She was much more than a divinely appointed incubator.  Instead she was entrusted with an exalted role, motherhood.

Two, by virtue of her maternal role, it implies that as I enter into a familial relationship with the person of Christ, as His adopted brother, I also am adopted, not only by His divine Father, but also His human mother.  She is by virtue of her Son, the mother of all believers.

Principle 3: What Does It Tell Us About God and Humanity?

First, it tells me that God wants to enter into and redeem every part of our messy and seemingly inconsequential lives.  God didn’t just choose to show up on the scene as an adult ready to take the world by storm.  Instead, He invades the world by entering into the most vulnerable and powerless stages.  He entered into the womb of an unwed woman in the ancient Middle East.  If this doesn’t showcase a desire to enter humbly, vulnerably, and scandalously into our world, I don’t know what does.  When I was first coming back to my faith, I found myself more drawn to the scandal of the Incarnation than the scandal of the Cross.  Obviously the two are forever linked, bound across space and time by the One who transcends both, but calling Mary the Mother of God draws our attention to the lengths which our God will go in order to encounter us on our level.

Second, it tells me that motherhood is not just a convenient (or inconvenient if you ask some) propagation of our species, but is a divinely elected honor.  This isn’t to say women who aren’t mothers are without value, rather it celebrates an often under-appreciated vocation.  The sacrifice of His body on the Cross for the life of the world is somehow inseparable from the sacrifice of their bodies that all of our mothers have made to give us life, including Jesus’ mother.  An author, Elizabeth Wirth, writes of her own difficult pregnancy and post-partum experience and ends the brief article with these words,

So I held [my son] close those sleepless nights when I thought I couldn’t give one more ounce.  When I thought I would collapse, I looked into his face and whispered, “This is my body – broken for you.” (Faith at the Edge 14)

Third, I’ve also heard Theotokos defined as “God Bearer.”  Whether that is a loose or accurate translation, I’m unsure, but it speaks to the reality of Mary’s call to bear Christ into the world, and now our call to do the same.  We receive Christ into our very bodies, as Mary did.  Then we must carry Him out into the world.  This is not just an individual call, but a call for the entire Church.  The Church is supposed to be another Theotokos in every age.

Finally, this dogma informs our view of mission.  There are some who are called to go out and radically change the face of the world in a couple years.  They are called to set the world on fire around them and sometimes are even called to die as a martyr.  But surrender to the Lord and zeal for His mission doesn’t always have to look like that.  Mary, who offered her attitude of, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), shows us a different form of mission.  Her mission is one of long-term commitment and nurturing.  She has the call to care for and raise her unborn child – to instruct Him, care for Him, and love Him.  All of this nurturing does not culminate in her being martyred, but watching her calling, her Son, die upon a cross.  Some of us are called to be the martyrs and some of us are called to raise them up.  Mary, shows us that diversity and this diversity needs to shape how we as a people and a church approach mission and ministry.