Saturday, October 28, 2006

Taking Another Break

I've come to the conclusion that whenever I have a large paper to write, I need to just take a break from blogging. If I don't, then I will spend too much time on this blog (and on worrying about the amount of time between posts) and I won't get this paper done. For some reason, I imagine that there are people who actually visit the blog often enough to notice that I haven't posted and to wonder when I'm going to post again. The demand for daily posts is probably not as large as I make it out to be in my mind, but then again, I've always lived in my own little world (ask my girlfriend).

SOOOoooo, I'm taking another break. This paper is due Thursday. Wish me luck.

Pax Christi,

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Did Jesus Have Brothers?

"Shock~Therapy" asked the following question in the Holy Culture Radio forum:
Since Catholics believe Mary (Jesus's mother) remained a virgin her entire life, how do you explain the mention of Jesus having brothers in Luke 8:19-21 and again in John 7:2-10?
First, the passages you cited:

Lk 8:19-21
19 Then his mother and his brothers (Gk.: adelphos) came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd.
20 And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers (adelphos) are standing outside, desiring to see you."
21 But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers (adelphos) are those who hear the word of God and do it."

Jn 7:2-10
2 Now the Jews' feast of Tabernacles was at hand.
3 So his brothers (adelphos) said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing.
4 For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world."
5 For even his brothers (adelphos) did not believe in him.
6 Jesus said to them, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.
7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil.
8 Go to the feast yourselves; I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come."

9 So saying, he remained in Galilee.
10 But after his brothers (adelphos) had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.

We see that the Greek word for "brother" in these passages is adelphos. This word has a variety of meanings. It does not just mean "blood brother". The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon tells us that adelphos has the following meanings:

  1. a brother, whether born of the same two parents or only of the same father or mother

  2. having the same national ancestor, belonging to the same people, or countryman

  3. any fellow or man

  4. a fellow believer, united to another by the bond of affection

  5. an associate in employment or office

  6. brethren in Christ
    • his brothers by blood

    • all men

    • apostles

    • Christians, as those who are exalted to the same heavenly place
So, the word itself allows for multiple meanings other than the one you give it. We see this in other verses where adelphos abviously does not mean "blood brother":

Gen 29:15 And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother (LXX, adelphos), shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be? (note: Jacob was actually Laban's nephew)

2 Sam 1:26 I am distressed for thee, my brother (LXX, adelphos) Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. (note: Jonathan was just a friend)

Neh 5:1 And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren (LXX, adelphos) the Jews.

Lk 22:32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren (adelphos).

Acts 11:1 And the apostles and brethren (adelphos) that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God.

Rom 9:3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren (adelphos), my kinsmen according to the flesh

Now that we know the word can be used to describe a variety of relationships, the question is whether or not we should consider one of these alternative meanings for the "brothers" of Jesus. Here is when some historical-criticism is helpful.

For one, Jesus was the first born of the family, so these "brothers" (if they were blood brothers) would be younger than him. BUT, in Jesus' day, no younger brother would dare speak to the eldest the way these brothers are speaking to Jesus. They are presuming to give him orders, or to advise him. This simply would not have happened, and his mother surely would not have allowed it!

Secondly, it is widely held that Mary was a widow by the time Jesus began his ministry, or at least by the time it ended. When the father dies, it is the responsibility of the eldest to care for his mother. When the eldest dies, it falls on the second brother. BUT, Jesus gave his mother to John, not to any of his "brothers" (Jn 19:26-27). This too would have been out-of-line if these brothers were his actual siblings.

Finally, it's interesting that Jesus is referred to as "the" son of Mary, instead of "a" son (cf. Mk 6:3). Maybe there's nothing there, but it seems to me that if she had multiple sons, "a son" would have been the more appropriate phrase.

Another reason we know these "brothers" aren't true siblings is because in Mt 13:55 (cf. Mk 6:3) we see that the brothers referenced in Lk 8 and Jn 7 are "James and Joseph and Simon and Judas". But, scripture tells us that at least two of them are actually Jesus' cousins:
  1. Jn 19:25 says that "Mary, the wife of Clopas" is the Blessed Mother's sister.

  2. "Mary, the wife of Clopas" is the "other mary" who went to the sepulcher with Mary Magdalene

  3. This "other mary" is also the mother of James and Joseph (Mt 27:56,61; 28:1; Mk 15:47).

  4. So, this would make James and Joseph the cousins of Jesus, even tho Mt 13:55 and Mk 6:3 say that they are Jesus' "brothers."
Since Simon and Judas are listed together with James and Joseph without any distinction made between them, it is likely that Simon and Judas had the same type of relation. Of course, if this Simon and Judas are the apostles Simon and Judas, then we know for a fact they were not Jesus' brothers.

All of this makes it highly unlikely that the "brothers" mentioned in Lk 8:19-21 and Jn 7:2-10 were Jesus' actual siblings. Instead, they were probably close relatives of some kind. I hope that helps.

Pax Christi,

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


I had to get rid of the poll because it was creating pop-ups. I'll try to find another one. I also added the following link to the "Headquarters" section:Pax Christi,

Why Have Images of Jesus and the Saints?

"ctide" asked the following two-part question in the Holy Culture Radio forum:
why are there so many carved and cast images?
Actually, I don't think there are that many, it just seems like alot in comparison to the stark minimalism of most protestant denominations. If you don't mind me saying, I think the better question (the one you probably had in mind) is this: why have images in the first place?

For one, before Christians became a predominately literate people, images were used to help teach them about salvation history and about the life of Christ. That was one reason for stained-glass windows and paintings and statues in churches. Even today, they teach our children about the mysteries of God and his Church, and for those who can read, they still work as a reminder of all that God has done for us.

Pictures and statues of saints in particular are reminders that the saints are always with us. They are the great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1) who cheer us on as we run the race towards that imperishable wreath (1 Cor 9:25). It is good to know that they are there, and that they are always praying for us. They know when people treat us with disdain (for they always behold the face of the Father, cf. Mt 18:10) and the Lord has charged them to guard over us (Psa 91:11).

Images in churches also reflect the belief that our liturgy is a participation in the heavenly liturgy seen in the Book of Revelation, where the saints stand in perpetual worship of the Lord. These images are a reminder that the saints are present, worshipping with us. Together we pray the Sanctus ("Holy, Holy, Holy" cf. Rev 4:8), the Gloria (Rev 15:3-4), and the Great Amen (Rev 7:12). Together we partake in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9).

On a more basic level, we are visual people. Sometimes it can be difficult to believe in or have solace in something we cannot see. God knows this, and he has done much to accomodate our "human-ness," first and foremost coming into our world in the person of Jesus Christ. He took on visual representation, which is one of the greatest defenses for images of Christ. Likewise, when we see the saints, it is easier for us to take solace in their prayers and they act as a reminder that we too can be saints as long as we model our lives after them.
do you believe these properly represent the way Jesus, Mary, Peter, Paul.... looked like?
Well, it depends on the image. Some of the images you see have been "Americanized" so that Jesus and the saints look like Caucasians, which has always bothered me a little. But, our ancient Eastern icons are wonderfully beautiful and utilize traditional representations of Jesus and the saints. There are actually traditions regarding how certain saints look, so that they always look the same, no matter the artist. We may never know exactly how they look, or what Jesus looked like, but that's ok. The endeavor is a pious one, and it is meant to make Jesus and the saints more real in our lives.

I hope that helps.

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Real Presence in Jn 6

The first thing to note about the "Eucharistic Discourse" (as it is often called) from John 6 is that it occurs on the eve of the Passover, when the lambs are slaughtered and eaten (cf. John 6:4). This adds greater significance to his words and further points to him as the paschal lamb that must be eaten. After this, he begins to gradually call the Jews to a greater act of faith.

First, Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fishes. This points to the Eucharist in many ways. Jesus will be their nourishment and they will never grow hungry. Also noteworthy is the fact that the account of the miracle begins with almost the same words as those which the synoptics and Paul use to describe the institution of the Eucharist (cf. Mat 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:23-24). This indicates that the miracle is a symbol of the Eucharist, about which our Lord will speak shortly. Upon this miracle, the people begin to believe, but their beleif is imperfect because they see him as an earthly savior and wish to make him king (cf. John 6:14-15).

From this act of faith, he calls for one still greater. Next, he compares himself to the manna which came from heaven. But, while the manna nourished for a time, if they will only believe in him, the true bread, they will be filled forever (cf. John 6:32-35). This is no small claim, to compare oneself to that very bread that saved the Israelites. But this is what Jesus has done........and on top of that, asking that they believe in Him as their spiritual savior. Yet again, the Jews show their lack of perfect faith (cf. John 6:36,41). But, Jesus is not done, for he demands the most sublime act of faith. And what is this sublime act of faith, that will weed out the unbelievers and even cause some of his very disciples to depart from him? It is to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

He begins by saying that this bread from heaven which they will eat is his flesh (cf. John 6:51). The greek word used for "eat" here is favgomai (or "phago"), which means "to eat or consume." In response, the Jews obviously take him literally; they "strove among themselves" (John 6:52). If he was still speaking metaphorically, would this not have been the time to clarify himself? Afterall, he wasn't getting the act of faith he was looking for and it seemed to be because of how they were understanding him. Also, we know that in many similar instances, Jesus explains himself to the people, or at least to the 12 on the side (cf. Mt 16:11-12; Mk 4:34; Lk 12:41-43; Jn 3:3-11) whenever he intends a meaning other than the one they understood.

But, he does not do that here. Instead, he is even more persistent. Starting with vs. 54, we find Jesus telling the crowd 4 more times that they must eat his flesh and 2 more times that they must drink his blood:

54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever."

Despite using repitition to drive the point home, he even uses a new, much harsher and more explicit word for "eat." In these instances, the greek word is trwvgw (or "trogo") which means "to gnaw, crunch, or chew." While "phago" may have a spiritual application, "trogo" is never used metaphorically in Greek. It occurs only two other times outside this discourse (cf. Mat 24:38 and John 13:18) and in both cases means a literal eating. It is undeniable what Jesus is asking of them. They must eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Verse 55 from this passage is also quite significant. For one, we are to eat, not his "body" (sw'ma, or "soma"), which often has a metaphorical meaning in the bible, but his flesh. The greek word here is savrx (or "sarx") and it is always used for literal flesh in the bible (proof here). Also, his flesh is meat indeed, his blood drink indeed. The greek word here is ajlhqw'ß (or "alethos"). It means "truly, of a truth, in reality, most certainly" and Jesus uses it to dispel any doubts concerning the reality of His flesh and blood as being food and drink.

In response to this they walk away, including many of his very beloved disciples. But even now, even when he has lost many of his followers, he does not back down. He turns to the faithful remnant, who acknowledge that His is "a hard saying" (John 6:60), and says to them, "Do you take offense at this?" (John 6:61). "Do you also wish to go away?" (John 6:67). He does not intend to retract his statement or to explain it away. Instead, he explains to them why they don't believe it:

61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, "Do you take offense at this?
62 Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?
63 It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
64 But there are some of you that do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him

It is often asserted here that, by saying that his words are spirit and life that he is meaning to clarify that he was only speaking symbolically. I find no merit in this claim. For one, nowhere in the bible is the word "spirit" meant to mean "symbol" and nowhere else is something said to be symbolic because it is spiritual. Instead, what we find here is a comparison between the spirit and the flesh that is often used throughout the bible to mean one thing: human wisdom vs. supernatural faith. Both Jesus and Paul use this terminology quite often to point out that we must go beyond the natural to comprehend the supernatural (cf. John 3:6; Mark 14:38; 1 Cor 2:14; 3:3; Rom 8:5; Gal 5:17). Jesus tells us that this is what he meant in vs. 65:

65 And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."

His teaching can only be received by supernatural faith granted by the Father.

In response to all of this, we find the words of Peter in one of my favorite passages from the Bible:

68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life;
69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

Peter too probably had a difficult time with what Jesus was telling them. You can almost feel the desperation in his words. But, he does not abandon Jesus. Instead, he trusts that what Jesus has told them is true, even though it is a mystery beyond full comprehension, one that we can only know by His revelation. Thus, in Peter, Jesus has finally received that most sublime act of faith that he requires from every one of us. I pray for the faith of Peter, and to be counted among the blessed who have not seen and yet believe (Jn 20:29).

Pax Christi,

Questions on Transubstantiation and the Real Presence

"Holy Culture Radio" asked the following question in the Holy Culture Radio forum (his sn is very appropriate):
When someone takes communion... nowadays.. in a Catholic church.... does that liquid (wine or grape juice) turn into REAL blood. Like physical blood?
Well, you probably didn't mean to imply this, but your question seems to suggest that the wine becomes the Real Presence once you "take it", or put it in your mouth (or perhaps when you receive it in your hand and then put it in your mouth). This is not true. The elements of bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ once the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to perform the miracle and then repeats the words of Jesus Christ: "This is my body" and "This is my blood."

That said, you are probably more wondering about the nature of this Presence in the wine. First of all, it is not just His Blood. Where His Blood is, there is also His entire self, since He exists whole and entire in heaven and since the sacrifice of the Mass is not a bloody one, in which Jesus loses blood, or has it separated from Him. So, the wine is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, yes, the wine (we don't use grape juice, since Jesus didn't) truly becomes the real and physical Blood of Christ. But, what we experience through out senses are the qualities of wine. So, what is truly His Blood tastes, and smells, and feels and looks like wine, even down to its most basic molecular structure. His Real Presence is "veiled" by the wine, so to speak, to guard against our sensibilities and the charge of cannibalism.

To use the language of metaphysics, the "substance" is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, but the "accidents" are of wine. I hope this helps. I know that it can be difficult to understand. Here is a link to a list of articles that may help:
The following articles may help as well:

What Bible verse teaches transubstantiation?
First, let's clarify some terminology.

"Real Presence" is the word we use to describe the belief that, after the words if institution, the bread and wine are truly Jesus. "Transubstantiation" is the word we use to describe, on a metaphysical level, what actually happens when the bread and wine are changed into Jesus. "Transubtantiation" is not in the bible because the bible does not concern itself with how the transformation takes place, it just asserts that it does. That it does --that the bread and wine do in fact become Jesus Christ-- is attested to by many verses. John 6 alone provides enough to defend the Real Presence. This, at least, is what I hope to show in my next post....

Pax Christi,

Monday, October 23, 2006

Why We Pray to Mary

A user by the name of "dante" asked the following question in the Holy Culture radio forum:

Why do catholics pray to Mary?
Well, first you need to know why it would be permissible to pray to the saints at all, let alone this particular saint. You can read my explanation of that here.

Now, from among the saints, why Mary? Basically, all the reasons to pray to Mary flow from her personal qualities and her relation to Jesus. Mothers and wives request her prayers because, as a perfect wife and mother, Mary knows exactly what to pray for. She knows the struggles of being a wife and a mother and what it takes to be a good one. Christians struggling with purity pray to her because she was pure. Christians struggling with temptation or engaged in spiritual warfare pray to her because she is the woman who has emnity with satan, who crushes his head (Gen 3:15; cf. this article), and who evaded his pursuits (Rev 12:6,14-16).

Basically, anyone can pray to her and for any reason. She cares greatly for the entire Body of Christ, just as she cared for the literal body of Christ. Just as Sarah was the spiritual mother of the Jews (and of all who "do right", cf. 1 Pet 3:6), Mary is the spiritual mother of "those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus" (Rev 12:17). Her prayer for us will always be powerful because her will was always united with her Son's, and because "the prayer of the righteous availeth much" (Jas 5:16). "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer" (1 Pet 3:12).

Also, the command to "Honor your father and mother" is for us all. She is our mother, and we should love her as much as Jesus did. She is also one of many tools--and perhaps the best tool--that the Christian can use to grow closer to Christ. She points to Christ; she is always saying "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5). She herself was intimately involved in the Father's mission for His Son (Gen 3:15; Mt 1:21-23; Lk 2:34-35; Rev 12:5) and she was always pondering in her heart the mysteries of His life (Lk 2:19,51). When we pray to her in the rosary we are simultaneously contemplating these mysteries as well. No one with a true devotion to her will ever say that she stood between the Son and any man.

And thus, for all these reasons (and probably for many more that I have forgotten to mention) it is good and well to pray for her and to love her.

Pax Christi,

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Short Post on Divorce

Many Protestants believe that a divorce can be had in the case of adultery, and they use Mt 5:31-32 in support of this. It reads:

Mt 5:31-32
31 "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.'
32 But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity
(porneia), makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

For one thing, it is unclear what the word porneia means. Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology says [emphasis mine]:
In later Judaism and New Testament times the word broadened to include adultery, incest, sodomy, unlawful marriage, sexual intercourse in general, and any sexual behavior that deviates from accepted social and religious norms. Usage in New Testament contexts does not change these options. The argument of Matthew 5 (and Matt. 19) does not provide sufficient data to limit the usage of porneia in this context to one specific meaning. Porneia is perhaps broad in its reference to illicit sexual intercourse in keeping with the breadth of the Hebrew phrase ervat dabar (cf. Deut 24:1). Some form of illegitimate extramarital sexual intercourse is conveyed by the term.
There is a great variety in the ways in which porneia is translated in our many versions of the Bible (keep in mind "unlawful marriage" as a possibility as well):
  • "unchastity": NAS, NRS, RSV

  • "fornication": ASV, KJV, TMB, DRB, Complete Jewish Bible, Darby, Vulgate ("fornicationis")

  • "sexual immorality": ESV, NKJV, HCSB, TNIV, Hebrew Names Version, WEB

  • "marital unfaithfulness": NIV, NLT, GNT, NIRV, GOD'S WORD Translation

  • "sexual promiscuity": The Message

  • "adultery": NCV

  • "the loss of her virtue": Bible in Basic English

  • "whoredom": YLT

  • "lewdness": Webster's Bible
The most we can make of all this is that porneia describes an illicit sexual union of some kind. It could refer to adultery, but only because adultery is one of many illicit sexual unions. The actual word for "adultery" is moicheia, and this is the word that Jesus uses for "adultery" in Mt 15:19 (cf. Mr 7:21). Note that when Jesus lists the things which come out of a man and defile him, he makes a distinction between porneia and moicheia:

Mt 15:19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries (moicheia), fornications (porneia), thefts, false witness, blasphemies

Paul also makes this distinction in Gal 5:19. This could mean that porneia and moicheia are not the same thing.

What does porneia mean then? Baker's Dictionary, which I cited earlier, lists "unlawful union" as a possible meaning. The Navarre Commentary elaborates upon this possible definition:
31-32. The Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 24:1), which was laid down in ancient times, had tolerated divorce due to the hardness of heart of the early Hebrews. But it had not specified clearly the grounds on which divorce might be obtained. The rabbis worked out different sorts of interpretations, depending on which school they belonged to--solutions ranging from very lax to quite rigid. In all cases, only husband could repudiate wife, not vice-versa. A woman's inferior position was eased somewhat by the device of a written document whereby the husband freed the repudiated woman to marry again if she wished. Against these rabbinical interpretations, Jesus re-establishes the original indissolubility of marriage as God instituted it (Genesis 1:27; 2:24; cf. Matthew 19:4-6; Ephesians 5:31; 1 Corinthians 7:10).

The phrase, "except on the ground of unchastity", should not be taken as indicating an exception to the principle of absolute indissolubility of marriage which Jesus has just re-established. It is almost certain that the phrase refers to unions accepted as marriage among some pagan people, but prohibited as incestuous in the Mosaic Law (cf.
Leviticus 18) and in rabbinical tradition. The reference, then, is to unions radically invalid because of some impediment. When persons in this position were converted to the True Faith, it was not that their union could be dissolved; it was declared that they had never in fact been joined in true marriage. Therefore, this phrase does not do against the indissolubility of marriage, but rather reaffirms it.

On the basis of Jesus' teaching and guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church has ruled that in the specially grave case of adultery it is permissible for a married couple to separate, but without the marriage bond being dissolved; therefore, neither party may contract a new marriage.

The indissolubility of marriage was unhesitatingly taught by the Church from the very beginning; she demanded practical and legal recognition of this doctrine, expounded with full authority by Jesus (
Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18) and by the Apostles (1 Corinthians 6:16; 7:10-11; 39; Romans 7:2-3; Ephesians 5:31).
The RSVCE has this note on porneia [emphasis mine]:
The Greek word used here appears to refer to marriages which were not legally marriages, because they were within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity (Leviticus 18:6-16) or contracted with a Gentile. The phrase "except on the ground of unchastity" does not occur in the parallel passage in Luke 16:18. See also Matthew 19:9 (Mark 10:11-12), and especially 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, which shows that the prohibition is unconditional.
Thus, porneia does not allow an exception to the indissolubility of marriage, and Mt 5:31-32 means that man and woman can separate and marry again only when their first marriage was never valid in the first place. This has been the constant tradition of the Church (see here). For more on divorce, go here and here.

Pax Christi,

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sidebar Update

I moved the poll further down in the sidebar, lest I deprive St. Michael of the honor he rightly deserves. I also added the following links:

Rules of EngagementStudy of the SwordMilitary LibrariesAmmunitionMilitary ReferencePen Is Mightier Than the SwordPax Christi,

Friday, October 20, 2006

New Addition to My Blog

Check it out -->

From now on, I am going to have a different poll in the sidebar each week. Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes it will be fun. Since this blog is predominantly serious, I'm going to try to lean more towards fun, haha. I hope you all dig it.

Pax Christi,

ps: Is it disrespectful to put the poll before my prayer to St. Michael? Maybe that will be my next poll question.....

Biblical Defense of the Sacrament of Confession

As promised, here is my defense of the Sacrament of Confession. "dremarshall" asked the following question in the Holy Culture Radio forum:
Do you still go to confession, is it important, if so why, and how does that apply biblically.
That is a good question, and I am happy to provide the answer.

Do I still go to confession? Most certainly! It is a regular part of my spiritual life. Is it important? Most certainly! Why? Because it is the means through which the Lord has willed to forgive our sins, particularly the most grievous ones. Catholics believe that mortal sin can only be forgiven through the Sacrament of Confession (cf. CIC, 960). Normatively speaking, a prayer will not suffice, for John has said: "There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that" (1 Jn 5:16).

The biblical defense of this sacrament usually begins with Jn 20:
Jn 20:21-23 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
I have seen many people try to squirm their way around this passage, but the clear meaning is that Jesus has given his apostles the power to forgive sins. He tells us earlier in His ministry that the very reason he forgave sins as a man was to show that men would have this power:
Mt 9:2-8 And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven." 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming." 4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5 For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? 6 But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" --he then said to the Paralytic--"rise, take up your bed and go home." 7 And he rose and went home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
God has indeed "given such authority to men," first, to the man-God Jesus Christ, and after His resurrection, to His apostles (and their successors), as Jn 20:21-23 reveals. This authority also applies to the temporal punishment or disciplinary measures due to sin, as we see in Mt 18:18, when Jesus tells the apostles, "Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Penances come by way of this authority, as do excommunications.

A few Protestant bible commentaries are helpful here:
1599 Geneva Study Bible: "He speaks not of just any policy, but of an ecclesiastical assembly, for he speaks afterward of the power of loosing and binding, which belonged to the Church, and he has regard for the order used in those days, at which time the elders had the judgment of Church matters in their hands, (John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2), and used casting out of the synagogue for a punishment, as we do now by excommunication."

Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible: "What was said before to Peter is here said to all the disciples, and in them to all the faithful office-bearers in the church, to the world’s end. While ministers preach the word of Christ faithfully, and in their government of the church strictly adhere to his laws (clave non errante—the key not turning the wrong way), they may be assured that he will own them, and stand by them, and will ratify what they say and do, so that it shall be taken as said and done by himself.

He will own them, First, In their sentence of suspension; Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. If the censures of the church duly follow the institution of Christ, his judgments will follow the censures of the church, his spiritual judgments, which are the sorest of all other, such as the rejected Jews fell under (Rom. 11:8), a spirit of slumber; for Christ will not suffer his own ordinances to be trampled upon, but will say amen to the righteous sentences which the church passes on obstinate offenders. How light soever proud scorners may make of the censures of the church, let them know that they are confirmed in the court of heaven; and it is in vain for them to appeal to that court, for judgment is there already given against them. They that are shut out from the congregation of the righteous now shall not stand in it in the great day, Ps. 1:5. Christ will not own those as his, nor receive them to himself, whom the church has duly delivered to Satan; but, if through error or envy the censures of the church be unjust, Christ will graciously find those who are so cast out, Jn. 9:34, 35.

Secondly, In their sentence of absolution; Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Note, 1. No church censures bind so fast, but that, upon the sinner’s repentance and reformation, they may and must be loosed again. Sufficient is the punishment which has attained its end, and the offender must then be forgiven and comforted, 2 Co. 2:6. There is no unpassable gulf fixed but that between hell and heaven. 2. Those who, upon their repentance, are received by the church into communion again may take the comfort of their absolution in heaven, if their hearts be upright with God. As suspension is for the terror of the obstinate, so absolution is for the encouragement of the penitent. St. Paul speaks in the person of Christ, when he saith, To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also, 2 Co. 2:10."

The Fourfold Gospel: "What things soever ye shall bind . . . and what things soever ye shall loose. The binding and loosing here mentioned is limited by the context or the subject of which Jesus now treats. Binding represents exclusion from membership; loosing, the restoration to fellowship in cases of repentance. The church's act in thus binding or loosing will be recognized in heaven if performed according to apostolic precept or precedent. Hence it is a most august and fearful prerogative."

People's New Testament: "What was said to Peter (Matt. 16:19) is addressed to all the apostles. It is spoken to all a second time (John 20:23). All had the keys as well as Peter. The apostles were, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to establish the rules of the church discipline, as well as to announce the conditions of salvation by the gospel. These rules and conditions, found in Acts and the Epistles, bind and loose men. As they were to speak and write as moved by the Holy Spirit, what they announced would be ratified in heaven."
Notice that the end of Matthew Henry's commentary quotes 2 Cor 2:10. Priests forgive sins "in the person of Christ" (in persona Christi). They represent his authority on earth for the forgiveness of sins. This phrase comes from Paul, in his description of his own authority to do this:
2 Cor 2:10 (KJV): "To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ"

2 Cor 2:10 (Latin Vulgate) : "cui autem aliquid donatis et ego nam et ego quod donavi si quid donavi propter vos in persona Christi"
Some English translations have here "in the presence of Christ," but many others from across the spectrum of interpretative method (the KJV, Third Millennium Bible, Douay-Rheims, Bible in Basic English, Young's Literal Translation, Darby, and Webster translations) read "in the person of Christ." The New Living Translation reads "with Christ's authority" and the New Century Verson "As if Christ were with me." Thus, this verse is quite illustrative of the role of the priest in the forgiveness of sins.

It is important to remember that the power and authority to forgive sins (and to bind and loose punishments due to sin) is foremost God's power. Bishops and priests share in this authority only insofar as God has made them His instruments for this forgiveness, to make it real and pallatable on earth. Just as Jesus healed the sick man and forgave him of his sins, whenever the Church prays over a man, he is healed and his sins are forgiven:
James 5:14-15 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
I hope that helps

Pax Christi,

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Little Something to Tide You Over

Until the debate on Cyril get's up and running, check out my defense of the Sacrament of Confession at the Holy Culture Radio forum (yes, I saved it this time!). I will post it on my blog when I get the chance.

Pax Christi,

Cyril of Jerusalem a Sola-Scripturist?

I have decided to leave that CARM article behind me and move on to something else. My heart just isn't in it anymore. If I were to re-write my response, it would be more like a chore than something I would be passionate about. I'm just ready for something different.

James Swan has sparked my interest here recently. He proposed, originally in the CARM forum but also on his blog, that Cyril of Jerusalem, a great Father of the Church, believed in sola scriptura. This is an astounding claim to say the least, and I was interested to dig deeper into Cyril's Catechetical Lectures and find his beliefs on the matter. I found some good stuff, which I shared with Mr. Swan. For a while I had our debate over this on my blog, but I have decided to take it down and wait for it to develop further before I show it to the world.

Pax Christi,

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Yea, I'm Definitely Going to Cry

.... and it's not Micah's fault this time.

It looks like the admin over at Holy Culture Radio pressed the wrong button and lost ALL THE THREADS on the forum. So, all the apologetical work that I did there is.....well.....gone.

*goes to lay in the corner, in the fetal position, and suck his thumb

Moral of the story: save your work!!

I was in the middle of my response to the article from CARM on baptism. Since my response was initially on that forum, it's gone now. I don't know if I am going to move on to something else, or write a fresh apologetic. Right now I need to just lick my wounds. Encouragement welcome.

Pax Christi,

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?: Part Two

It is clearly the gospel that saves us. But what exactly is the gospel? That too is revealed to us in the Bible. It is found in 1 Cor. 15:1-4 [. . .] The gospel is defined as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for our sins. Baptism is not mentioned here.
The sinner's prayer isn't mentioned here either. Actually, the sinner's prayer isn't anywhere in the bible, but I digress. The fact is, I agree full well that the gospel is that God became man and died for out sins. Baptism does not contradict this. Afterall, it is through baptism that we enter into "the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for our sins." With my response to the passages referenced later on I hope to show you that this is the case. You would have to prove otherwise before you could say that baptism contradicted the gospel.
Paul said that he came to preach the gospel, not to baptize: "I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel..." (1 Cor. 1:14-17). If baptism is necessary for salvation then why did Paul downplay it and even exclude it from the description of what is required for salvation? It is because baptism isn't necessary for salvation.
Well, that's a leap in logic if I ever saw one! Paul and the apostles did not all have the same role in advancing the message of Christ. "For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function" (Rom 12:4). Paul did baptize (he admits it himself in the verse you cite), so you can't say he was against it. He's not downplaying it either. Baptism just wasn't a major role of his. But, that doesn't mean that baptism isn't necessary. Should we say that the gospel isn't for the gentiles becauase Peter mostly preached to the Jews? The passage you cite just means that Paul's primary responsibility was to do the preaching. Other people did the baptizing.
Additionally, in Acts, Peter was preaching the gospel, people got saved, and then they were baptized. Acts 10:44-46 says, "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days" (NIV).
I don't see where this says they "got saved," as you put it. They received the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, speaking in tongues, as the context illustrates. That doesn't mean they were "saved." It looks to me that God gave them this gift to show everyone that His kingdom was just as much for the gentile as it was for the Jew. So, Peter had them enter into it............through baptism.
These people were saved. The gift of the Holy Spirit was on the Gentiles and they were speaking in tongues. This is significant because tongues is a gift given to believers, see 1 Cor. 14:1-5. Also, unbelievers don't praise God. They can't because praise to the true God is a deep spiritual matter that is foreign to the unsaved (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, the ones in Acts 10 who are speaking in tongues and praising God are definitely saved and they are saved before they are baptized. This simply isn't an exception. It is a reality.
Well, this all depends on whether or not an intellectual assent is enough to save a person. I think it's not. "Even the demons believe--and shudder" (James 2:19). I'd rather not get into the larger debate about what one has to do to be "saved." I'm interested here only in showing that baptism is not merely symbolic.
Another way of making this clear is to use an illustration. Let's suppose that a person, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), believed in Jesus as his savior (Rom. 10:9-10; Titus 2:13), and has received Christ (John 1:12) as Savior. Is that person saved? Of course he is.
Well, supposing salvation actually works that way (this is, afterall, a hypothetical situation), then yes he would be saved.
Let's further suppose that this person confesses his sinfulness, cries out in repentance to the Lord, and receives Jesus as Savior and then walks across the street to get baptized at a local church. In the middle of the road he gets hit by a car and is killed. Does he go to heaven or hell? If he goes to heaven then baptism isn't necessary for salvation. If He goes to hell, then trusting in Jesus, by faith, isn't enough for salvation. Doesn't that go against the Scriptures that say that salvation is a free gift (Rom. 6:23) received by faith (Eph. 2:8-9)?
If we stay within the parameters of the hypothetical, then he would go to heaven. Actually, even when we come back to the real world, where baptism is necessary, he would go to heaven. This is because God would acknowledge the desire of the person to be baptized. We are bound, normatively speaking, to receive the sacraments. In other words, this is how it should normally be done. But, there are always extreme cases where this can't take place, and it would be unjust to hold the person accountable for that. The good thief on the cross didn't have the opportunity to be baptized either, but Jesus did not hold this against him.

Long story short: if you can be baptized, you should.
Saying that baptism is necessary for salvation is dangerous because it is saying that there is something we must do to complete salvation. That is wrong! See Gal. 2:21; 5:4.
Faith demands action. This is all over the bible.

James 2:15-16
15 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food,
16 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?

John 14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments

These are just two examples, numerous others can be given. The point is that faith must always be expressing itself. Faith is obedient, it is active. In this sense, yes, "There is something we must do." Paul holds Abraham up as displaying this type of faith. "You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works" (James 2:22). So, Christians, embracing this type of faith, are compelled by it to be baptized. Their faith in Christ and in the teachings of the apostles informs this action.

Christians are compelled to do many things because of their faith in Christ: pray, feed the poor, read the bible, love their neighbor, etc. But, we wouldn't dismiss all this as mere "works." Approaching the waters of baptism is just another example of faith working like it is supposed to.

To be continued....

Monday, October 16, 2006

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?: Part One

Christians Apologetics and Research Ministry ( is one of the most popular Christian apologetics websites on the internet. Unfortunately, they have a whole section devoted to the refutation of Catholic doctrine. One of their articles attempts to refute the Catholic belief regarding the necessity of baptism (you can read it here). What follows is my response to that article. For the sake of brevity, I am quoting only the most relevant portions.
- - -
A covenant is a pact or agreement between two or more parties. [. . .] If you fail to understand that God works covenantally and that He uses signs as manifestations of his covenants (rainbow, circumcision, communion, etc.) then you will not be able to understand where baptism fits in God's covenant system.
A covenant is not just a pact or agreement between two people. That's a contract. A covenant is the establishment of a filial relationship between two parties. There's a big difference. At any rate, I agree full well that God works covenantly with his people. The necessity of baptism does not contradict this.
Second, you need to know what baptism is. It is an outward representation of an inward reality. For example, it represents the reality of the inward washing of Christ's blood upon the soul. That is why it is used in different ways. [. . .] (Rom. 6:3-5) [. . .] (Gal. 3:27) [. . .] (Acts 22:16) [. . .] (1 Cor. 10:2) [. . .] (1 Cor. 12:13). Also, baptism is one of the signs and seals of the Covenant of Grace that was instituted by Jesus. It is in this sense a sacrament. A sacrament is a visible manifestation of something spoken. It is also said to be a visible sign of an inward grace.
Agreed! I wonder if he knows how indebted he is to St. Augustine for the definition of a sacrament he has formulated here.
The Covenant of Grace is the covenant between God and Man where God promises to Man eternal life. It is based upon the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and the condition is faith in Jesus Christ. As the Communion Supper replaced Passover, baptism, in like manner, replaces circumcision. "They represent the same spiritual blessings that were symbolized by circumcision and Passover in the old dispensation" (Berkhoff, Lewis, Systematic Theology, 1988, p. 620.).
Circumcision was the initiatory rite into the Abrahamic covenant; it did not save. A covenant is a pact or agreement between two or more parties and that is exactly what the Abrahamic covenant was. [. . .] God later instructed Abraham to circumcise not only every adult male, but also 8 day old male infants as a sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:9-13). If the children were not circumcised, they were not considered to be under the promissory Abrahamic covenant. [. . .] But at the same time we must understand that circumcision did not guarantee salvation to all who received it.
Besides his minimalistic definition of a covenant, I agree with all of this.
It was a rite meant only for the people of God, who were born into the family of God (who were then the Jews).
Technically, this is incorrect. Household slaves were circumcised (Gen 17:12), as well as foreigners who wished to partake of the Passover celebration (Exo 12:48). This circumcision of non-Jews points to the eventual universality of the New Covenant, which is available to all through baptism.
infants were entered into a covenant relationship with God -- through their parents.
In the New Testament, circumcision is mentioned many times. But with respect to this topic it is specifically mentioned in Col. 2:11-12: "In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead" (NIV). In these verses, baptism and circumcision are related. Baptism replaces the Old Testament circumcision because 1) there was a New Covenant in the communion supper (Luke 22:20), and 2) in circumcision there was the shedding of blood but in baptism no blood is shed. This is because the blood of Christ has been shed.
If you understand that baptism is a covenant sign, then you can see that it is a representation of the reality of Christ circumcising our hearts (Rom. 2:29; Col. 2:11-12). It is our outward proclamation of the inward spiritual blessing of regeneration. It comes after faith which is a gift of God (Rom. 12:3) and the work of God (John 6:28).

Now, lets look at what we have affirmed so far:

1. God works covenantly with his people
2. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality, an inward grace
3. The condition for entrance into the Covenant of Grace is faith in Jesus
4. One entered into the Abrahamic covenant through circumcision
5. Circumcision did not guarantee salvation
6. Infants entered into a covenant relationship with God through their parents
7. Baptism replaces circumcision
8. Baptism is a representation of the reality of Christ circumcising our hearts
9. Baptism comes after faith

With all this agreement, it may be hard to see where we differ. I think the difference lies in a misunderstanding of what signs are, and a failure to draw out all the implications of the parallel between baptism and circumcision.

First of all, if baptism replaces circumcision (#7) and one previously entered into covenant with God through circumcision (#4), wouldn't this mean that it is now through baptism that one enters into a covenant with God? In other words, circumcision was not just an act they performed which symbolized the entrance into the covenant that they had already obtained (through faith or some other means). Instead, circumcision was that entrance into the covenant. One became a son of God and a member of his people through circumcision. Baptism parallels circumcision. So, today, we become the offspring of Abraham and heirs to the promise through baptism, just as the Jews did through circumcision (cf. Gal 3:26-29). Since it actually effects entrance into the covenant, it can't be simply symbolic (in the modern sense of the word).

Secondly, look at #2: Baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality, an inward grace. It would be helpful here to know how ancient peoples understood symbols. The word symbol in the original Greek is derived from the word sym-ballein, which means "to bring together". Thus, as Carlo Siri points out, "The symbolon was originally the broken half of an object which, when brought together with its other half, could serve as sign of recognition" (Carlo Siri, Images of Truth: From Sign to Symbol, translated by Massimo Verdicchio, New Jersey: Humanities Press International, Inc., 1993, page 105). In other words, the symbol and the thing symbolized are mystically one and the same reality.

In fact even the Protestant scholar Adolf von Harnack recognized this truth, and that is why in reference to the Eucharist he said that, "The symbol is the mystery and the mystery was not conceivable without a symbol," and also, "What we now-a-days understand by symbol is a thing which is not that which it represents; at that time [i.e., in the ancient Church] symbol denoted a thing which, in some kind of way, really is what it signifies" (Adolph von Harnack, History of Dogma, New York: Dover Publications, 1961, volume 2, page 144). Consequently, the sacraments in Catholic theology are symbols in the ancient sense of the word, and not in the modern Cartesian sense, because they render present the mystery that they signify.

Thirdly, pt. #3 says that the condition for entrance into the covenant of grace is faith in Jesus. A belief in the efficacious nature of baptism, and its necessity for salvation does not deny the role of faith. Afterall, faith is what compels one to be baptized (#9) and is what brings infants to the sacrament as well (#6). Without it, men are not drawn to the waters of baptism. Thus, I affirm both the necessity of faith and the necessity of baptism.

Finally, I want to address pt. #5. You seemed to be suggesting earlier that, since baptism parallels circumcision and circumcision didn't save, then baptism doesn't save. But, this ignores one important point. Circumcision didn't save because of the nature of the covenant into which it granted entrance. However, since we now have a covenant of grace, a covenant that does save, when we enter into it through baptism, we enter into salvation.
Third, the Bible says that it is the gospel that saves. "By this gospel you are saved..." (1 Cor. 15:2). Also, Rom. 1:16 says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."
Right, but how does it save? Do you just hear it and you are automatically saved? If that were the case we could just play it on a big loudspeaker and effect the mass salvation of thousands and thousands of people. But, we know it doesn't work that way. The gospel saves when people accept it and everything that goes along with it. In other words, it saves when people make an act of faith in response to it, or in affirmation of it. I assert that the act of faith in question is baptism. Note, baptism comes after faith (#9). As the Catechism says, it is "the sacrament of faith" (CCC, #1236, 1253, 1992).

To be continued....

Sunday, October 15, 2006

On the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions

"Islam shook me deeply. Seeing such faith, seeing people living in the continual presence of God, I came to glimpse something worthy and more real than worldly occupations."
--Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) [1]

"For us the Jews are Scripture’s living words, because they remind us of what Our Lord suffered. They are not to be persecuted, killed, or even put to flight."
--St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) [2]

How prophetic are these words from Charles de Foucauld and Bernard of Clairvaux! In their respective centuries, there was much hostility towards non-Christians. It was rare to see, even (or perhaps particularly) in the documents of the Church, an ecumenical word or an amicable spirit in their regard. Yet from these periods of hostility emerge two quotations with quite a cordial feeling, a sentiment that would finally find conciliar expression in a most unprecedented document from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965): Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Lest we take such a document for granted, it is essential to understand the context of it, both among the previous documents of the Church, and in the mind and intention of the Council Fathers. In this light, we can come to better appreciate what would otherwise be just one of many expressions of our Faith.

Early Magisterial Documents[3]

For the sake of brevity, we can afford here only a quick survey of the great opus of all that has been written in the name of the Church and Her Vicar. I suspect that even an exhaustive treatment of these writings would uncover very little, at least in the way of papal encyclicals, regarding the Church’s relationship with non-Christians. I provide here the more notable entries.

There are no references to previous Church documents in Nostra Aetate. The only reference to any document is a secondary reference in Article 4 to Lumen Gentium [4] and a most obscure reference in Article 3 to a letter from Pope Gregory VII to Anzir, king of Mauritania (1076 AD). In this letter, the pope writes: "We and you must show in a special way to the other nations an example of this charity, for we believe and confess one God, although in different ways, and praise and worship him daily as the creator of all ages and the ruler of this world."[5] This appears to be a rare moment of fraternal regard on behalf of Gregory. He lives in a time in which the Crusades against the Muslims were just underway and Christian sentiment was certainly hostile. Two years earlier, he called all Christians to lay down their lives in defense of those being plundered and persecuted by this "pagan race."[6]

Most of the antagonistic language regarding the Muslims falls within a similar context of invasion by the Muslim people. So, from the First Lateran Council (1123) we see that the remission of sins and the protection of goods is afforded those who "set out for Jerusalem and offer effective help towards the defense of the Christian people and overcoming the tyranny of the infidels."[7] The Third Lateran Council (1179 AD) prescribes excommunication for Christians who aid in any way the war efforts of the "Saracens" (Muslim opponents of the Crusades), becoming consequently "their superiors in wickedness."[8] Saracens are also not allowed to have Christian servants in their houses.[9] The Fourth Lateran Council (1215 AD) speaks of liberation of the Holy Land "from infidel hands" and "enemies of the faith"[10], and renews the prohibition against aiding the Saracens.[11] The First Council of Lyons (1245 AD) reasserts all this, almost verbatim.[12]

Regarding the Jews, mention of them is more ancient and numerous, but no less antagonistic. The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) declares that readers and cantors are not to allow their children to marry heretics, Jews, or Greeks, unless the person intending to marry the orthodox party promises to convert to the true faith.[13] The Second Council of Nicaea (787) decrees that Jews who pretend to become Christian, and who thus "make a mockery of Christ who is God," shall not be received into communion with Christians, nor should they presume to baptize their children or possess a slave.[14] Both the Third (680-681) and Fourth (869 AD) Councils of Constantinople, in affirming the anathema of Nestorius, interestingly point out that he "thought as the Jews" and "possessed a Jewish mentality,"[15] a possible reference to his denial of the Lord’s divinity. The Third Lateran Council (1179 AD) forbids Jews to have Christian servants in their houses or to hold any position of authority over Christians.[16] The Fourth Lateran Council (1215 AD) reproaches "the perfidy of the Jews," who "extort oppressive and excessive interest" from Christians. It also asserts that they must wear distinguishing dress in public, for the joining of Christians with Jews and Saracens constitutes "a damnable mixing." Jews are not to hold public office, for "it would be too absurd for a blasphemer of Christ to exercise power over Christians," nor can Jews retain anything from their own rite once they convert to Catholicism.[17] Finally, the Council of Basle (1433) "firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Catholic Church before the end of their lives."[18]

Two papal documents are worth mentioning as well. First, is Pope Gregory X’s Papal Protection of the Jews, which in 1272, is another one of those prophetic treatments of Jewish-Christian relations. In it, Gregory forbids Christians to baptize Jews by force, injure their persons, steal their money or their goods, disturb them during celebration of their religious festivals, falsely accuse them of kidnapping and murder, or devastate Jewish cemeteries.

In contrast, the other papal document, Benedict XIV’s A Quo Primum (On Jews and Christians Living in the Same Place), written in 1751, shows an obvious resentment towards the Jews, specifically those in Poland. According to the document, the Jews have gained much of the positions of authority in business and commerce, and they use this to persecute Christians. Benedict refers to them as "cruel taskmasters" who give "tyrannical orders" (no. 2). He bemoans the mingling of Christians with Jews, and the excessive interest that Jews require from Christians (no. 3). To his credit, Benedict does recall the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter of Cluny, who asserted that the Jews should not be harmed or destroyed (nos. 4 and 5). However, he also recalled the prescriptions of his predecessors regarding service under Jews, the promotion of Jews to public office, and the engagement in any business relationships with them. Noteworthy in its contrast to Nostra Aetate is Benedict’s reference to Innocent III, who said: "Let not the sons of the free woman be servants of the sons of the handmaid; but as servants rejected by their lord for whose death they evilly conspired, let them realize that the result of this deed is to make them servants of those whom Christ's death made free" (no. 5). Finally, Benedict ends with a most lurid image, referring to the effect of the Jewish presence on the Catholics of Poland as a "stain of shame," one that he will work "energetically and effectively" to remove (no. 9).

Although most of the documents on the Church’s relationship with non-Christian religions concern the Jews and the Muslims, there is, oddly enough, a papal document that addresses Church relations with Hindus. In 1893, Pope Leo XIII wrote Ad Extremas (On Seminaries for Native Clergy). In it, his primary concern is the establishing of seminaries in "the regions of the Indies" (no. 1) so that clergy can be formed to evangelize the Hindus and govern the Christian people in these lands. As a result, we also see what his perception is of this non-Christian religion. For instance, he refers to the "myths and vile superstitions of the Brahmans," from which many Hindus are being converted (no. 1). He laments that many of them "are still deprived of the truth, miserably imprisoned in the darkness of superstition!" (no. 1). According to Leo, the eternal salvation of these Hindus is at stake (no. 10).

All of this may be quite alarming to the modern reader. It appears that the Church is saying that, if we cannot convert these non-Christians, we should separate ourselves from them. Except for the lone letter of Gregory VII to the Muslim king of Mauritania, there is no acknowledgement of truth found in these religions. The Jews in particular are an accursed people who suffer because of their rejection of Christ and who risk damnation if they are not converted to the true faith. Of course, many Catholic apologists and patristic scholars attempt to ease our alarm by emphasizing the unique times in which these statements were made. However, the hostility is there, and it cannot be ignored.

Nostra Aetate and the Second Vatican Council

With this history as a backdrop, we come to the document that was the impetus for this look into the past. On October 28th, 1965, Pope Paul VI promulgated Nostra Aetate, the Church’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Arthur Gilbert rightly calls it "an historic declaration" with a "revolutionary assertion."[19] The assertion is this:
"The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men."[20]
Furthermore, there is expressed a high regard for the Muslims, who venerate Jesus and Mary (no. 3). Likewise, Catholics are fellow sons of Abraham with the Jews, who are not an accursed people (no. 4), and Hinduism and Buddhism are honest attempts at understanding the divine mystery and responding to the inadequacy of this changing world (no. 2). All of this, as we have seen, is quite unprecedented. In this document, the Church has not simply said that we should avoid disparaging or harming non-Christians (nos. 4 and 5), which is the most we could say of the documents of the past. Instead, the Church has additionally affirmed that there is truth and goodness in these non-Christian religions.

Once struck by the gracious hand that the Church has extended towards other religions with the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, one can easily come to wonder, "How did such a document come to be? What peoples and events guided the Council towards the finished product we have before us?" It is in answering these final questions that we complete our assessment of this Declaration.

"Few Council documents aroused as much controversy, or were followed with such close interest, as the famous Declaration on the Jews …"[21] This is certainly no surprise. Within the Church, traditional understandings of the validity of the Jewish religion and our relationship with its adherents were being pitted against new implications of the dignity of the human person and of religious liberty, and new ways of understanding the Passion of our Lord. Outside the Church, Jews wished to finally eradicate the charge of "deicide" and any last remnants of Christian Anti-Semitism. For their part, Arabs wished to defend their claim on the Holy Land, and to resist any support of Zionism or the State of Israel. All of these interests converged upon this document, making it a highly contested work that took the whole length of the Council to complete.

The journey actually started before the Council even began. By early 1960, a flurry of Anti-Semitism had erupted throughout Europe and the United States. As a result, Pope John XXIII received two guests that would be quite influential to him: the first, a B’nai B’rith delegation (the oldest Jewish fraternal organization in the United States) on January 18th; the second, the noted Jewish historian Jules Isaac, in July of the same year. These two visits seem to have been the catalyst that compelled the pope to consider a declaration dealing with the Jewish people.[22]

Cardinal Bea, the President of the newly formed Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity, was eventually given the responsibility of preparing this declaration. After consultation from many American and international Jewish organizations, the Secretariat approved the first draft of its statement on the Jews. However, Pope John decided not to place it on the agenda for the First Session of the Council. There was already some controversy surrounding the document, most notably from among the Arabs who were suspicious of Jewish involvement with the document and in the Council. He probably felt that the climate was not right for bringing it to the forefront of the Council.[23]

After the closing of the First Session, rumors mounted that the Council Fathers would rather avoid the Jewish question. But, behind the scenes, the Secretariat was preparing a new statement, one that would be attached to a Schema on Ecumenism. Unfortunately, when the Second Session began on September 29, 1963, it quickly became apparent that the Fathers had a long road ahead of them. The debates were contentious, and much of their work found itself tied up in the politics of the Council. The printing of Chapter 4 of the Schema on Ecumenism, which was about the Jews, was "mysteriously delayed."[24]

Finally, on November 8th, the official text of the statement was distributed to the Council Fathers. Upon distribution, Cardinal Bea gave a speech that was well-received by all the Council Fathers. In his speech, he made the following points:
  • The Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity took the initiative to address the Church’s relations with the Jews at the express command of Pope John XIII.

  • The statement is concerned with no national or political question. There is no question of acknowledging Zionism or the State of Israel. There is only treatment of a purely religious question.

  • We see in the Old Testament the preparation of the work of the Redeemer and his Church.

  • The Church is the continuation of the chosen people of Israel.

  • God has not rejected his chosen people.

  • We must imitate the gentle charity of Christ the Lord and his apostles with which they excused their persecutors.

  • Popular anti-Semitic literature has influenced Catholics over the years, especially when it used arguments from Scripture.

  • The Jews of our times can hardly be accused of the crimes committed against Christ, so far removed are they from those deeds.

  • Even in the time of Christ, the majority of the chosen people did not cooperate with the leaders of the people in condemning Christ.

  • The Church must follow the example of Christ, who says, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing."[25]
Although the Fathers largely agreed with the content of the statement, there were a few objections. Some of the Fathers felt that it was out of place as a chapter in the Schema on Ecumenism. Most of them understood "ecumenism" to pertain only to inter-religious dialogue among Christians, not between Christians and non-Christian religions. Also, some of the Fathers felt that if they were going to address the Jews, then they should also address the other non-Christian religions, such as Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Of course, there was also a small group of Fathers who either flatly disagreed with what they viewed as conciliations in the text, or who did not feel that the issue of the Jews should be addressed at all.[26] Ultimately, the Second Session closed without a finished text upon which to vote.

During the interim period between the closing of the Second Session on December 3rd, 1963, and the opening of the Third Session on September 14, 1964, the statement on the Jews underwent many revisions. When the statement was eventually distributed to the Council Fathers during the Third Session, they had before them a document that was very different from the one that they had previously seen. Added to it was a treatment on the Muslims and on the Eastern religions. Also, the statement was no longer attached to the Schema on Ecumenism. However, the treatment on the Jews was noticeably weakened. In particular, the word "deicide" was removed as describing the crime from which the Council hoped to vindicate the Jews, and a call for the conversion of the Jews was added. Many of the bishops, particularly the American ones, argued strongly for the restoration of the word "deicide" and the elimination of any call for Jewish conversion. Eventually these suggestions were heeded, but when the Third Session closed they had a statement that garnered only 1,651 Yes votes, 242 Yes with reservations, and 99 No.[27]

During the break, the document was changed yet again. This time, the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity decided to remove the word "deicide" and put in its place a series of conditional phrases and qualifications. In September, just before the opening of the last Session, the Secretariat publicly revealed that it had changed the statement "in order to clear up any eventual misgivings."[28]

Of course, when the Fathers saw the changes that were made, many of them were furious. Bishop Leven of San Antonio, Texas mounted a campaign to reject the revised version. The more "conservative" Fathers also played their part, distributing a letter (in violation of the Council’s rules) calling upon the Council to reject the Jewish statement. Even from outside the Council, there was hostility. A four-page tract signed by Catholic organizations throughout the world charged that only an "anti-Pope or a secret conspiracy could approve" the Declaration.[29]

However, Pope Paul VI had already announced at the close of the Third Session that the next session would be the last. So, feeling like this was the best that they could achieve considering the controversial nature of the subject, the Fathers gave their final vote: 2,221 Yes; 88 No, 3 Null. Even at the very end, some of the bishops resisted, and the 88 No votes would be the largest number of dissenting votes for any document of the Council.[30]


It is amazing when looking back on this process to see the amount of work-—and even a great deal of frustration-—that went into the creation of the Declaration. There was very much a human element involved. Opinions flared. Many different groups fought to protect their own special interests. Rynne even posits that a very concerted effort was made to circumvent the promulgation of the document altogether![31]

Fortunately, what we see both in the deliberations of the Council and throughout the conciliar history of the Church is a very real spiritual element as well. Nothing else can explain the production of such wise, influential, and occasionally even poetic documents out of such an environment of contention. Nothing else can explain the gradual revelation of the dignity of man and the implications that this dignity has upon our perception of other Christians and of non-Christian peoples-—despite the prejudices and misunderstandings that were often harbored. Better still, nothing else can ensure the spreading of the Truth and the protection from error that has consistently and without fail characterized the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church. One can only be humbled by Nostra Aetate, as well as by all the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and most importantly by all the ways in which Jesus Christ has ensured that His Church will be "guided into all Truth"[32] and that "the gates of Hell will not prevail against it."[33]
- - -
[1] Leo Knowles, Catholic Book of Quotations (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2004), 199.
[2] ibid., 202.
[3] Quotes from conciliar documents are largely taken from Norman P. Tanner, Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vols. 1 and 2 (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990). When this work was not at my disposal, I have linked to an identical online version.
[4] In the fourth paragraph in Article 4 of Nostra Aetate, there is a reference to Lumen Gentium, Article 16, which reads: "On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues." I linked to the translation from the Vatican website because it is more in line with the wording of Nostra Aetate than the Flannery translation.
[5] Gregory VII, "Letter to Anzir, King of Mauritania," in Jacques Dupuis, The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, 7th ed., (New York: Alba House, 2001), 418-419.
[6] Gregory VII, "Call for a Crusade," in Paul Halsall, Internet Medieval Sourcebook.
[7] First Lateran Council, Can. 10, online here.
[8] Third Lateran Council, Can. 24, in Norman P. Tanner, Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vol 1 (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990), p. 223.
[9] Third Lateran Council, Can. 26, in Tanner, p. 223-224.
[10] Fourth Lateran Council, Can. 71, in Tanner, p. 269.
[11] "We excommunicate and anathematize, moreover, those false and impious Christians who, in opposition to Christ and the christian people, convey arms to the Saracens and iron and timber for their galleys. We decree that those who sell them galleys or ships, and those who act as pilots in pirate Saracen ships, or give them any advice or help by way of machines or anything else, to the detriment of the holy Land, are to be punished with deprivation of their possessions and are to become the slaves of those who capture them" (Fourth Lateran Council, Can. 71, in Tanner, p. 269).
[12] See First Council of Lyons, Constitution #5 from the second set, online here.
[13] Council of Chalcedon, Can. 14, in Tanner, p. 93-94.
[14] Second Council of Nicaea, Can. 8, in Tanner, p. 145.
[15] See the Third Council of Constantinople, in Tanner, p. 124; and the Fourth Council of Constantinople, in Tanner, p. 161.
[16] Third Lateran Council, Can. 26, in Tanner, pgs. 223-224.
[17] Fourth Lateran Council, Cans. 67-70, in Tanner, pgs. 265-267.
[18] Council of Basel, Session 11, in Tanner, p. 575.
[19] Arthur Gilbert, The Vatican Council and the Jews, (Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1968), p. vii.
[20] Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate, Article 2, in Austin Flannery, O.P., Vatican Council II, Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 2004), p. 739.
[21] Xavier Rynne, The Fourth Session: The Debates and Decrees of Vatican Council II (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1966), p. 160.
[22] "Appendix G: Chronology of the Council’s Jewish Statement and American Jewish Reaction," in Arthur Gilbert, The Vatican Council and the Jews, (Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1968), p. 292.
[23] Appendix G, in Gilbert, pgs. 292-294.
[24] Appendix G, in Gilbert, p. 295.
[25] Xavier Rynne, The Second Session: The Debates and Decrees of Vatican Council II (New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1964), pgs. 218-223.
[26] Floyd Anderson, Council Daybook: Vatican II, Sessions 1 and 2 (Washington, D.C.: National Catholic Welfare Office, 1965), p. 299.
[27] Appendix G, in Gilbert, pgs. 296-297.
[28] ibid., p. 299.
[29] ibid., p. 300
[30] ibid., p. 300-301.
[31] For example, in his commentary on the Third Session, which Rynne calls "The October Crisis", he states: "Having been outmaneuvered and outvoted on collegiality, the same minority now concentrated its efforts on sidetracking or hampering the revision of the Declarations on Religious Liberty and the Jews, with a view to preventing a final vote, if possible, and eventually burying both" (Xavier Rynne, The Third Session: The Debates and Decrees of Vatican Council II [New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1965], p. 63).
[32] John 16:13 (RSV)
[33] Matthew 16:18 (DRB)
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