When Boundaries Are Transgressed

IMG_8970Ruins, Pompeii, Italy

“Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.” 1

Rejecting Novelty

Ruin consequentially follows when the boundaries fixed by our forefathers in the faith are trampled down and burst asunder. Every Christian ought to have the conviction that what their faith is not a product of their own ideas, or those of a select group of “enlightened” individuals from a certain period of time, but part of an unbroken chain of witness to the very faith given by Christ to the Apostles, and by the Apostles to the Church. One ought not to depart from what was universally believed and authoritatively taught by the church from ancient times, else each generation must rethink Christianity anew.

“Through Him the Church is enriched; abounding grace is multiplied among the saints, furnishing understanding, revealing mysteries, proclaiming times and seasons, and rejoicing over the faithful believers – the grace which is granted to every seeker who does not violate his vows of faith, or transgress the bounds fixed by the Fathers.” 2

Where else does heresy originate except in a definite time and place as a mutation of the apostolic faith handed on in the Church? This is why the supposed “reformers” of Protestantism ought not to be trusted, nor any of their offspring, since they offer novel interpretations of Scripture that directly contradict the faith of the entire church that precedes them. They preach a “gospel” that denies the necessity of the sacraments for salvation, especially baptism and the Eucharist in direct contradiction to the very words of Holy Scripture and the unanimous consent of the church fathers.

“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’” 3

“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” 4

As early as the year 110 A.D. we find St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John and bishop of the church in Antioch declaring that those who do not believe that the Eucharist is the very same body of Christ that suffered upon the cross have a “perverted notion” of grace and “reject God’s good gifts.” 5 He does not minced words for those who reject the sacraments of the Church in favor of a novel teachings:

“But make no mistake, my brothers; the adherents of a schismatic can never inherit the kingdom of God. Those who wander in outlandish by-ways of doctrine must forfeit all part in the Lord’s Passion. Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with His Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice…” 6

There is only one true Church, one Eucharist, one body of Christ, on altar of sacrifice, and one true gospel taught by the apostles and their successors, the bishops of the Holy Catholic Church. St. Vincent of Lerins expresses this sentiment of the Church in commenting on the anathema of St. Paul in Galatians 1:

“[I]t is unlawful for all to receive any other Gospel than that which the Catholic Church preaches everywhere.” 7

Similarly St. Augustine declared,

“I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.” 8

Catholicity or Caprice?

Catholicism claims to be nothing less then the religion of Christ in the world. The Catholicity of the Church is crucial because it means that the true faith is universal — for all people of all times. This certitude is only applicable if the Catholic Church is a visible institution established by Christ and granted a charism of infallibility to teach in his name until His return. If Christ’s authority is not visibly and historically embodied in the Church then one can simply claim that any given “church” has misinterpreted the Scriptures or gravely misunderstood the teaching of Christ according to their own caprices. It is all too convenient to pick and choose from the faith of so many holy martyrs, priests, bishops, popes, councils, doctors, and saints in order to form a custom-catered Christianity. Such is the religion of the devil and has nothing to do with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith requires that we assent to the authority Christ gave to his apostles and their successors and not our own whims and imaginations. The faith is made for transmission, not tampering; it is to be faithfully handed on whole and intact; not rethought in every generation. As St. Vincent of Lerins explained,

“[T]rue piety admits no other rule than that whatsoever things have been faithfully received from our fathers…it is our duty, not to lead religion whither we would, but rather to follow religion whither it leads; and that it is the part of Christian modesty and gravity not to hand down our own beliefs or observances to those who come after us, but to preserve and keep what we have received from those who went before us.” 9

An Integral Unity

It only takes one drop of poison to pollute a whole glass of water, and such is the danger of heresy. In other words a faith that is 99% truth and 1% error is not the true faith and is dangerous to the soul. Now some might think this is extreme, but we have the word of Our Blessed Lord himself promising to send the Holy Spirit to lead the apostles into all truth, not just 85% or 99% of the truth. 10 He himself gave to them the authority to bind and loose, that is, to render authoritative and binding decisions concerning “all that I have commanded you.” 11 To Peter as the first among the apostles he gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the charge to strengthen the brethren and tend his flock. Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church founded upon the rock of St. Peter.

IMG_8919Statues of Christ and the Apostles, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican

The Catholic Church unflinchingly adheres to her teaching and traditions out of fidelity to the commission given to her by the Lord Jesus Christ. The problem with a “church” whose teachings are only 99% true is not only that this makes a mockery of our Lord’s promises but also that it opens the door to the dissolution of truth. The Catholic Church understands that the faith is an integral and indissoluble unity. Even one false teaching is a crack that shatters the entire glass:

“…If any one part of Catholic truth be given up, another, and another, and another will thenceforward be given up as a matter of course, and the several individual portions having been rejected, what will follow in the end but the rejection of the whole?” 12

The rejection of Catholic truth necessarily leads to a downward spiral of error, disunity, and confusion. Those who remain outside the true church of Christ may maintain some degree of truth but only because it was first taught by the Catholic Church. In this sense all truth is Catholic truth. Protestantism offers no truth original to itself; only heresy. The Catholic Church is the fountain of all truth and bosom of all heavenly blessings. Outside of her there is positively no salvation. The Church would cease to be who she is if she taught as infallible dogma but one single error. She would cease to be the spotless bride of Christ and would succumb to the wiles of the devil. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her.

Submission of Judgment

This leads to the crucial question: if one does not submit their judgment to the Church then to whom do they submit? To claim that one submits to the Word of God alone is a fallacy since we know that every appeal to the Scriptures is mediated through human authority, just as even God’s revelation in Christ was mediated through his humanity. The Catholic submits their judgment to the Church as the divinely appointed teaching authority while the Protestant ultimately submits to the teaching authority of self as aided by subordinate guides (history, pastors, theologians, etc.). Just consider the uncomfortable conclusion that Protestants believe that the individual guided by the Holy Spirit is the highest form of human authority, even after other authorities are referenced and consulted. Ultimately the Protestant believes X because they are personally convinced that X is true. If personal convictions and those of a particular denomination or pastor conflict, the individual’s judgment trumps. The Catholic believes X is true not primarily because they are personally convinced of X, but because the Church teaches that X is true.

SolaScripturaFakeButton

That Uncomfortable Conclusion

This all leads to that uncomfortable conclusion that the Church possesses a divinely ordained and binding authority over the individual Christian in matters of faith and morals. This does not mean that one “checks” their critical thinking at the door or that the Scriptures are “subordinated” to the Church. What this means is that Christ intended the true interpretation of the Scriptures and the fullness of the Christian faith is found only in union with the Church He founded. But — some will ask — what if along the way the teaching of the Church deviates from the Scriptures? That will be the day you can proclaim yourself Pope and establish your own pseudo-church, if you haven’t done so already. Until then we would do well to heed the warning of St. Athanasius:

“[L]et us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. Upon this the Church is founded, and he who should fall away from it would not be a Christian and should no longer be so called.” 13

Deo gratias!

Notes:

  1. Proverbs 22:28.
  2. The Epistle to Diognetus, 11.
  3. John 6:53.
  4. John 3:5.
  5. St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 6-7
  6. St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, 3-4.
  7. St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, 9:24. (434 A.D.)
  8. St. Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, 5:6
  9. St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, 6:16.
  10. John 14:26; 16:13.
  11. Matthew 16:19; 18:18
  12. St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory23:58.
  13. St. Athanasius, First Letter to Serapion, 28.

The Truth About Mary, Part 2: Her Perpetual Virginity

"The Holy Family", Juan Simón Gutiérrez, 17th Century {{PD-Art}}.

“The Holy Family”, Juan Simón Gutiérrez, 17th Century

It Takes Three

Depictions of the Holy Family and Maddona and Child are timeless expressions of the Christian faith that we can trace back to the time of the apostles. These images simultaneously capture the reality of the incarnation and the humanity of Christ. As we gaze upon the Holy Family we behold the stunning reality that God became part of a human family and as a child depended upon Mary and Joseph for his sustenance, protection, and well-being. We can imagine the life of the Holy Family in Nazareth as an experience of love and joy; three persons yet one spirit. These thoughts flow seamlessly together in natural progression when one meditates upon the Holy Family. Now imagine finding a depiction of the holy family showing the Christ Child with his mother Mary, Joseph his father and a handful of siblings! Any person would at least do a double take at the sight of such an unprecedented anomaly! A Catholic would especially recoil at such a depiction considering the Church’s ancient and universal belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity; that she remained a virgin before, during, and after giving birth to Christ.

Objections

The immediate objection that is raised by Protestants is that Mary bore other children then Jesus since the Scriptures refer to his “brothers” and “sisters.” 1 This objection has a rather simple answer: the “brothers” and “sisters” referred to in the Scriptures are not the offspring of Mary but rather cousins or Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. The reasons and argumentation for this understanding of the “brethren” of Jesus have been sufficiently covered elsewhere so I will not attempt any further explanation. 2 Simple put, the words “brother” and “sister” in the Scriptures has a broader meaning then “sibling” and often refers to kinsmen or close relatives. Also, Protestants will argue that Matthew 1:25 implies that Mary and Joseph had normal marital relations after Jesus’ birth. However the word “until” does not imply that Mary and Joseph had relations after the Birth of Christ, it simply means that they had no marital relations before the birth of Christ.

Common Sense Creed

From the earliest days of her existence the Church has professed her belief in Mary’s virginity. Perhaps the most well known expression of this belief is found in the Nicene Creed: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” Similarly the Apostles’ Creed proclaims that Christ “…was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” To many evangelicals these words simply remind them of the virgin birth of Chirst, but as I explored the faith of the early church I sensed something deeper beneath the surface. Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, not just simply born of Mary, who was a virgin. The early church did not refer to Mary as a Virgin just in the past tense, but in the present tense. Jesus Christ was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, yet she is the ever-virgin. 3 St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John, refers to Mary’s Virginity as a mystery hidden from the Devil and formed in silence, yet revealed to the Church. 4 In Mary the early church saw the miraculous and perfect example of virginity and motherhood. To the early church she was intimately and perpetually identified as the Virgin Mary.

How Will This Be?

To conclude that Mary bore other children then Christ one must not only ignore or downplay the faith of the early church but also superimpose this belief on the Scriptures. Nowhere do the Scriptures say that anyone besides Jesus was the son of Mary: one must assume this is the case and reinterpret the Scriptures to fit this view. Mary’s perpetual virginity is congruent with the Scriptures although not explicitly taught by them. For example when St. Gabriel announces to Mary that she would become the Mother of the Christ she replies,

“How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

Zechariah questioned the possibility that he and his wife could bear a child in their old age (Luke 1:18), Sarah laughed outright at the word of the angel to Abraham (Genesis 18:12), and Manoah’s wife was barren yet the angel promised that she would bear a son (Judges 13:3). In all these cases there were natural impediments that precluded the possibility of child-bearing for these women. However the circumstances surrounding the angel’s annunciation to Mary is entirely different since she could have understood this in the natural sense to mean that she would bear a son through St. Joseph. Instead she is conflicted at the angel’s words — “how will this be”? Notice the angel does not say you have conceived, but you will conceive. This would not be shocking news to Mary if she intended to have children through her marriage to St. Joseph. I believe the best explanation for this conundrum is that Mary always intended to remain a virgin and never intended to bear children through marriage.

Ancient Affirmation

This explanation, although somewhat incredulous to contemporary ears, is entirely logical if one does not insist that the marriage between Joseph and Mary be understood in the ordinary and typical sense. Historically the church has believed that Mary was committed to service in the temple as a child and made a vow of virginity. Upon coming of age she left the temple due to the requirements for ceremonial purity and had need for a guardian who would provide for her yet respect her vow of virginity. St. Joseph was an elderly widower that was chosen and accepted this great responsibility. Thus the “brethren of the Lord” were the children from St. Joseph’s previous marriage (and perhaps cousins). This tradition is found in an early church writing from 150 A.D. called The Protoevangelium of James which explains in detail how Mary remained a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ 5. Also it is worth noting the list of early church fathers that affirmed Mary’s perpetual virginity includes Origen of Alexandria, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, St. Jerome, Pope St. Siricius I, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Augustine of Hippo, and Pope St. Leo I among others. In fact, support for the perpetual virginity of Mary was so unanamous among the early church fathers that the teaching was affirmed in strongest terms by the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 A.D.

“If anyone will not confess that the Word of God…came down from the heavens and was made flesh of holy and glorious Mary, Mother of God and Ever Virgin, and was born from her, let him be anathema.” 6

Aligning With The Evidence

For an Evangelical Protestant who had little knowledge of church history and never considered Mary as anything more than a good example, the dogma of her perpetual virginity seemed quite strange and unnecessary. Yet once I encountered the teachings of the early church and saw how harmoniously they fit with the Scriptures I could no longer object in good conscience. After all, even Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity! So why do most Protestants today reject the perpetual virginity of Mary? Perhaps for some there is a fear that affirming the perpetual virginity of Mary (or other Marian dogmas for that matter) will at worst lead to an idolatrous focus on Mary or at best confirm the teachings of the Catholic Church. More so I believe the rejection of historical Christian teachings like the perpetual virginity arise out of the increasingly minimalist hermeutical approach to the Scriptures among Protestants that excludes the truthfulness or necessity of any doctrine that is not explicitly taught in Scripture. Hence even dogmas strongly defended by the magisterial reformers are jettisoned as being “unnecessary” and “non-essential.” Of course, this is a matter for an entirely different post. May Christ lead His church towards unity and a deeper appreciation of the truth concerning Mary.

Ave Maria!

Mariology Series:
Mariology Intro: Why Not Mary?
Why Evangelicals Need Mary, Part 1: Scripture Sings Her Praise
Why Evangelicals Need Mary, Part 2: Devotion to Christ
Why Evangelicals Need Mary, Part 3: Listening to Antiquity
Why Evangelicals Need Mary, Part 4: Attaining Spiritual Maturity
Marian Misconceptions, Part 1: "Mariolatry"
Marian Misconceptions, Part 2: Dogmatic Deviation
The Truth About Mary, Part 1: Her Immaculate Conception
The Truth About Mary, Part 2: Her Perpetual Virginity
The Truth About Mary, Part 3: Her Assumption into Heaven

Notes:

  1. Matthew 12:46; 13:55; Mark 3:31-32; 6:3; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5.
  2. Catholic Answers, “The Brethren of the Lord.”
  3. See for example St. Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians 2:70 (A.D. 360)
  4. Epistle to the Ephesians, 19 (110 A.D.).
  5. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm
  6. Capitula of the Council, 2

Ignatius of Antioch: A Saint Worthy of our Imitation and Prayers

Confirmation and Patron Saints

With Easter only a week away I’ve taken some time to reflect on my life and my faith more deeply to prepare myself to receive the sacraments and enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. One important aspect of this preparation is choosing a patron saint for the sacrament of confirmation. This practice is intimately connected with the Church’s belief in the communion of saints which is the communal sharing of spiritual goods among all the saints whether in heaven or on earth. Simply put, the church is one body of which Christ is the head and we are members. As living members of the body of Christ we need the prayers and help of the saints in glory as we encounter the temptations and trials of this present life. Indeed, it is through their “constant intercession in your presence we rely for unfailing help” (Eucharistic Prayer III). It is based on this teaching that catechumens and candidates preparing for confirmation choose a patron saint as a guide and help in their journey of faith. Recently after a bit of deliberation and prayer I choose St. Ignatius of Antioch as my patron saint for my confirmation.

Who was St. Ignatius of Antioch?

St. Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch appointed by the Apostle Peter around 69 A.D. Tradition identifies St. Ignatius as the child whom Jesus held as described in Matthew 18:4, although this is hard to confirm. In the year 107 A.D. St. Ignatius was lead captive to Rome where he was thrown to the wild animals as a martyr for his witness to Christ. During his journey he wrote seven letters to various churches along his way in Asia Minor as well as to the church at Rome and Polycarp the bishop of Smyrna. As one of the immediate successors of the apostles in the first century church, St. Ignatius provides a vital link to the teachings of the apostles and the life of the early church. St. Ignatius was as a disciple of John the apostle and would have learned the faith from his very lips. Such a proximity to the Apostles makes the writings of St. Ignatius a significant witness to the apostolic faith of the early church.

Why Did I Choose St. Ignatius as my Patron Saint?

As I reflected on my journey to the Catholic Church it became clearer to me that the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch played a pivotal role in my conversion. His writings significantly swayed and challenged my theological convictions over the past few years as I often returned to them. It was not merely his words that I found convincing but the sincerity and conviction with which he followed Christ. The ardent spirit of St. Ignatius enkindled a hunger in my soul for the same encounter with Christ that he experienced and the same faith that he received. I came to the conclusion that I would be wise to listen carefully to this ancient saint and give his words more weight the contemporary Christian teacher. As a result I learned many beautiful lessons on the faith from St. Ignatius as I read his epistles. Here are just a few of those truths:

Stand firm in unwavering commitment to follow Christ even unto death:

“Unless we are ready and willing to die in conformity with His Passion, His life is not in us.” – Epistle to the Magnesians, 5.

“…no power, visible or invisible, must grudge me my coming to Jesus Christ. Fire, cross, beast-fighting, hacking and quartering, splintering or bone and mangling of limb, even pulverizing of my entire body – let every horrid and diabolical torment come upon me, provided only that I can win my way to Jesus Christ…to die in Jesus Christ is better than to be monarch of earth’s widest bounds. He who died for us is all that I seek; He who rose again for us is my whole desire” – Epistle to the Romans, 5-6.

Deeply ponder the mysteries of the Faith, especially the incarnation and passion of Christ:

“Very Flesh, yet Spirit too;
Uncreated, and yet born;
God-and-Man in One agreed,
Very-Life-in-Death indeed,
Fruit of God and Mary’s seed;
At once impassible and torn
By pain and suffering here below:
Jesus Christ, whom as our Lord we know.”
– Epistle to the Ephesians, 7

“Whom no senses can reveal
Was for us made manifest;
Who no ache or pain can feel
Was for us by pain opprest;
Willing all things to endure,’
Our salvation to procure.”
Epistle to Polycarp, 3.

Avoid heresy like poison and schisms like the plague:

“And so I entreat you…not to nourish yourselves on anything but Christian fare, and have no truck with the alien herbs of heresy. There are men who in the very act of assuring you of their good faith will mingle poison with Jesus Christ; which is like offering a lethal drug in a cup of honeyed wine…” – Epistle to the Trallians, 6

“But make no mistake, my brothers; the adherents of a schismatic can never inherit the kingdom of God. Those who wander in outlandish by-ways of doctrine must forfeit all part in the Lord’s Passion.” – Epistle to the Philadelphians, 3.

“Give thought especially to unity, for there is nothing more important than this.” – Epistle to Polycarp, 1

The authority of the Church comes from Christ and is for our good:

“Abjure all factions, for they are the beginning of evils. Follow your bishop, every one of you, as obediently as Jesus Christ followed the Father. Obey your clergy too, as you would the Apostles; give your deacons the same reverence that you would to a command of God. Make sure no step affecting the church is ever taken by anyone without the bishop’s sanction. The sole Eucharist you should consider valid is the one that is celebrated by the bishop himself or by some person authorized by him. Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the catholic Church.” – Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8.

“You will be safe enough so long as you do not let pride go to your head and break away from Jesus Christ and your bishop and the Apostolic institutions. To be inside the sanctuary is to be clean; to be outside it, unclean. In other words, nobody’s conscience can be clean if he is acting without the authority of his bishop, clergy, and deacons.” – Epistle to the Trallians, 7.

Hunger for the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist:

“There is no pleasure for me in any meats that perish, or in the delights of this life; I am fain for the bread of God, even the flesh of Jesus Christ, who is the seed of David; and for my drink I crave that Blood of His which is love imperishable.” – Epistle to the Romans, 7.

“Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with His Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice…” – Epistle to the Philadelphians, 4.

“…share in the one common breaking of bread – the medicine of immortality, and the sovereign remedy by which we escape death and live in Jesus Christ for evermore.” – Epistle to the Ephesians, 20.

“But look at the men who have those perverted notions about the grace of Jesus Christ which has come down to us, and see how contrary to the mind of God they are…they even absent themselves from the Eucharist and the public prayers, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins…” – Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 7.

Much more could be said about St. Ignatius of Antioch, but this will have to do for now.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us!