Thursday, October 16, 2008

Exploring Catholicism: Part 3

[Also see Part 1 and Part 2]

As far as the first question about the scriptures I feel that you fairly represented the Catholic side and I can understand. The more and more I become convinced that the sacraments are more than symbols the more I feel this is less of an issue because I would then believe they are administers of grace, which I don’t’ believe would fit with the OSAS idea.
That is correct.

The other questions I had were for me to know how to approach this as I study and as I potentially look for people near my area to talk with.
In my studies I can see and begin to accept the idea of Apostolic Succession. I have seen how the early church viewed this pretty strongly as a testament to the validity of its congregations and that the formula was generally bishop, presbyter, deacon. That idea has begun to make me think that it is possible and probably true that the church is and should be very visible. I am just writing thoughts out so hopefully it makes sense because I have a ton floating around in my head ;)
That's perfectly fine!

Anyway, these thoughts are important to me because I come from a tradition in which a church is usually formed by a pastor and then maybe an elder team and there is not really anyone higher up than that, nor any community of churches to report to. If you have any comments about this please feel free too if it will help in further understanding.
I'm following you so far.

This is where for me it begins to get difficult. I am about to open up probably the two big ones you always here so anyway here goes:
The pope. I am not sure I am convinced there is supposed to be a pope but moreso that even if there was supposed to be one he should look like he does today. Maybe you can help me to understand where the idea of a pope comes from and his role today.
Well, essentially his role is the same today as it was when it was first explained to Peter by Jesus himself: to be a rock for the Church (cf. Mt 16:18), to be the steward of God's house (with all the authority that entails, cf. Mt 16:19; Isa 22:15-22), to strengthen his fellow bishops and priests (cf. Lk 22:31-32), and to feed and tend the flock of Christ (cf. Jn 21:15-19).

How he fulfills this role will change overtime, but we shouldn't expect anything less. The Church Herself grows, and matures, and adapts Herself to new situations and challenges as the culture itself grows and changes. If the Church looked exactly like it did when it was first formed, it wouldn't be able to meet the challenges of today. The papacy is the same way. We must allow a certain organic development of the papacy throughout the centuries, as the Church comes to a greater understanding of Herself and the best way to perform Her mission in the world. As long as we maintain continuity with the past and never lose sight of the essential roles and responsibilities of the Church and of the pope, then this development is acceptable, and even necessary.

The second and more troubling to me is Mariology. I feel like it is a lot of speculation. How can we know that she ascended? Or that she was unstained with original sin for that matter? Or how can we know she is Mediatrix and I guess what exactly does that mean?
These are very good questions, and I'll take them one at a time.

  1. How can we know that she ascended?

  2. Well, to state it more precisely, she was assumed. To say that she "ascended" I think implies that she rose body and soul into heaven by her own power. But, only Jesus Christ could do such a thing. So, instead we say that she was "assumed," which means that God raised her up into heaven. The distinction is important b/c it shows that, just as with all of the Marian privileges, it was b/c of the grace and power of God that she was able to participate in the resurrection of the body. At the end of time, we will all participate in this resurrection; Mary was just able to do so before the rest of us.

    The basis for the Assumption of Mary comes primarily from the teaching of the Church, but there is implicit witness in Scripture as well.

    First note that the concept of the Assumption is not foreign to Scripture. Like I said before, we will all experience the resurrection of the body when Jesus comes again (cf. Jn 5:28-29; 6:39-40; 11:24-25). Likewise, Mary was not the only one to experience this before the Second Coming. Enoch (cf. Gen 5:24; Heb 11:5) and Elijah (cf. 2 Ki 2:11-12; 1 Mac 2:58; Sir 48:4,9) were assumed into heaven. Paul suggests that a third man may have been as well (cf. 2 Cor 12:2-3) and Matthew speaks of "many bodies of the saints" who were raised from the tomb after Jesus' resurrection (cf. Mt 27:52-53). So, the principle is scripturally sound. We have left only to answer the question, "Did this happen to Mary?"

    As far as explicit references go, this can be neither confirmed nor denied. I find nothing in Scripture, explicit or otherwise, that condemns the teaching. What I do find, however, are several verses that seem to point to it, at least implicitly [from the RSV, unless otherwise noted]:

    Psalm 45:9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

    Psa 132:8 Arise, O LORD, and go to thy resting place, thou and the ark of thy might.

    Isa 60:13 The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious.

    So 3:6 What is that coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of the merchant?

    So 8:5 Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?

    Rev 11:19-12:1Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. 1 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars

    Rev 12:13-14 and when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had borne the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle that she might fly from the serpent nto the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.

    Often times, in Scripture, we can find meanings intended by God but not necessarily intended by the human author. For example, when Isaiah said, "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son," he meant to refer to the birth of King Hezekiah. But, St. Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit, saw behind these words the intention of God to prophecy the coming of the Messiah. In a similar way, there's no reason to believe that behind the literal meaning of the passages listed above, we do not find the mind of the Lord regarding His mother.

  3. How can we know that she was unstained from original sin?

  4. This is called the Immaculate Conception, and the biblical witness to it is more substantial. First, I think it is helpful to note the parallel between the ark of the Old Covenant and Mary:

    • Lk 1:28,31,42,45,48 (DRB) and Psa 93:5: The house of the Lord is forever holy, and Mary was a holy and blessed house of the Lord.
    • Lk 1:35 and Exo 40:35: God overshadowed Mary just as He overshadowed the tabernacle that contained the Word.
    • Lk 1:39 and 2 Sam 6:2: Both Mary and the ark arise and go to Judah.
    • Lk 1:41 and 2 Sam 6:16: David leaps with joy at the presence of the ark, just as John leaps at the presence of Mary.
    • Lk 1:43 and 2 Sam 6:9: What David says at the coming of the ark is almost exactly what Elizabeth says upon the coming of Mary.
    • Lk 1:56 and 2 Sam 6:11: Both Mary and the ark reside for 3 months in their new locations.
    • Heb 9:4 and Jn 1:1; 6:51; Heb 5:4-5: Just as the ark of the Old Covenant contained the word of God on the stone tablets, the manna from heaven, and the rod of Aaron the great High Priest, so did Mary contain Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God, the Manna from Heaven, and the great High Priest.

    All of this points to Mary as the ark of the New Covenant, and if the ark of the old required construction of the finest and purest materials and was so holy that no one could even touch it, what else can we believe about Mary but that God constructed her to be holy and undefiled, a fitting tabernacle of our Lord Jesus Christ?

    There are also two salutations to Mary that are indicative of her immaculate nature. The first is the Angel Gabriel's words to Mary:

    Lk 1:28 (DRB) And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

    Some versions translate this as "hail, thou that art highly favored," but this is an inaccurate translation. The Greek term here is kecharitomene, a perfect present participle of the verb charitoo, which denotes "grace". A perfect participle indicates an action completed in the past with existing results, and a present participle denotes continuous or repeated action. For more on this, go here or here.

    So kecharitomene means "you who were and continue to be full of and completed in grace." Now grace is God's gift of spiritual life and communion with Himself. Sin and grace are opposed (cf. Rom 5:20-21), and grace saves us from sin (cf. Eph 2:5,8). So Mary's fullness of grace indicates a complete absence of sin.

    What is also interesting about the angel's words is that he literally calls Mary "full of grace" as if that were her name. He did not say, "Hail, you who are full of grace." He addressed her as "full of grace" just as you would address me as "Nick." This is important because in the Bible, a person's name is often indicative of his chief characteristic. Simon was called "Peter" because he was to be the "Rock" of the Church. Abram was called "Abraham" because he was to be the father of many nations. So, by addressing Mary as "full of grace," the angel is acknowledging Mary as one who is particularly grace-filled.

    Elizabeth's words to Mary are also important: "Blessed are you among women" (Lk 1:42). Note that neither the Hebrew or the Aramaic languages (which Elizabeth would have spoken) have superlatives. So, the tallest person would be "tall among men." The smartest person would be "smart among men." This shows that when Elizabeth said that Mary was "blessed among women" she was declaring her the holiest one of all.

    So, the salutations of the Angel Gabriel and of Elizabeth work to further point to Mary's Immaculate Conception.

  5. Or how can we know she is Mediatrix and I guess what exactly does that mean?

  6. I could try to put this in my own words, but honestly, I'm pretty tired right now. At any rate, I don't think I could explain it any better than Dave Armstrong does. See A Biblical and Theological Primer on Mary, Mediatrix.

I hope that answers all of your questions. No excuses for waiting so long to respond. Just an apology: Sorry bro.

Pax Christi,

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