Questions Catholics Ask

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More questions...and responses

What does the phrase “consubstantial with the Father” in the Creed mean?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 12, September 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Shamrock as symbol of Trinity
Jesus puts it more elegantly when he declares in John’s gospel: “The Father and I are one.”

If you’d recited the Creed before the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, the line you indicate would have read: “Of one substance with the Father.” After Vatican II and before 2011, that phrase was: “One in being with the Father.” The Greek word translated all three ways is homoousion, “single essence.” The Latin word is consubstantialis, bringing us to the current translation, consubstantial—a word you probably won’t hear in any context other than reciting the Creed.

Jesus puts it more elegantly when he declares in John’s gospel: “The Father and I are one.” He makes a similar proposal to Philip, when the disciple innocently asks to see the Father: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

The first Christian leader to use the term consubstantial was Origin (185-254). He insisted: “There is no dissimilarity whatever between the Son and the Father.” He further declared “the power of the Trinity is one and the same” by quoting Saint Paul: "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are diversities of administrations, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God who worketh all in all.”

The Council of Nicaea (325), dominated by Athanasius, eliminated any hint of subordination within the Trinity. Meanwhile Arius and his followers, who questioned the equal natures of Father, Son, and Spirit, were branded heretical.

Expressions of the single essence of God became the matter of many early homilies. Irenaeus (130-202) trusted that “When Christ comes, God will be seen by men.” Peter Chrysologus (400-450) affirmed that God becomes known to us in being born for us. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) preached: “In the fullness of time, the fullness of divinity appeared” in Bethlehem.

Some church fathers took consubstantiality a radical step further. Hilary (315-368) proposed: “We are all one, because the Father is in Christ, and Christ is in us…. With Christ we form a unity which is in God.” Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386) went so far as to say: “If we have given up our worldly way of life… it must surely be obvious to everyone that … our nature is transformed, so that we are no longer merely men, but also sons of God, spiritual men, by reason of the share we have received in the divine nature.” Augustine (354-430) dared to speak the phrase that still stuns us: “God became man so that man might become God.” Complete communion with God remains the goal.

Scriptures: John 1:1-5, 14; 5:19-30; 14:7-11; 17:20-26; Romans 13:14; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; Galatians 2:19-20

Books: The Trinity: Insights from the Mystics, by Anne Hunt (2010)

The Trinity: An Introduction on Catholic Doctrine of the Triune God, by Gilles Emery, O.P. (2011)

What does Pope Francis mean by “rapidification”?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 12, September 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Climate change
Unsustainable production, consumption, and disposal is NOT progress, the pope insists.

We humans have an expression for the pace that makes us impatient: “glacially slow.” Not too slow, we imagine, if you’re a glacier. The biological world moves at a pace quite natural to it, with the rhythm of seasons, centuries, and eons performing an ecological waltz that’s both graceful and, yes, glacial. But human history is running a marathon against time, our little lifetimes being the scale by which we measure what’s an acceptable momentum for change.

This intensified pace of social evolution leads to a phenomenon the pope calls “rapidification.” In Chapter 1 of his encyclical Laudato si, he expresses concern that “the myth of progress” accepts that our present technological juggernaut is sustainable, and that any collateral “ecological problems will solve themselves.” This confidence is irrational, the pope notes. Natural ecosystems are circular: taking, using, and returning goods for the next cycle of life. Human production, by contrast, is linear: taking resources, passing them through non-biodegradable, toxic, and radioactive processes, and returning hundreds of millions of tons of often poisonous waste to the earth.

Our rapidified consumption of resources is having immediate critical effects. The planet is warming. Glaciers are melting at a not-so-glacial pace. Sea level is rising, biodiversity is shrinking, and tropical forests are being lost. Overfishing threatens the oceans’ abundance. Essential resources such as water and agricultural production are waning in availability. Within a few decades, water scarcity is likely to affect billions of people. Animals and plants alike are migrating in an attempt to adapt. This dramatic shift affects human lives, as the poor too must migrate to survive.

The global migrations we’ve already seen, from south to north, are posing complex problems for countries that cannot or will not receive those in motion. Environmental degradation will only worsen these social pressures, setting the scene for more violence and new wars. As the pope says: “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together.”

Rapidification is a lifestyle that must be reconsidered. This is not to denounce progress. Unsustainable production, consumption, and disposal is NOT progress, the pope insists. A fundamental shift in our thinking is needed: to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. We need to think and act together. The planet is too small, and life is too fragile, to take sides.

Scripture: Genesis 1:26-31; Leviticus 19:9-10; 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 8:7-20; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Joel 1:16-20; Matthew 6:25-34; Revelation 22:1-5

Books: Care for Creation: A Call for Ecological Conversion, by Pope Francis (2016)

Apocalyptic Ecology: The Book of Revelation, the Earth, and the Future, by Mical Kiel (2017)

I'm having trouble finding a religious community that will consider me as a candidate because I'm older. Why?

Posted by: Jennifer Tomshack 🕔 Sunday 20, August 2017 Categories: Consecrated Life,Vocation and Discernment
Older discerners
Finding a religious community when you're older is not impossible.
Many communities don't accept older candidates; however, some will consider making exceptions. We usually advise older discerners to directly contact communities that interest them and discuss their circumstances.

There are several reasons why communities are less inclined to consider older discerners. For starters, the formation process can take as many six years, which makes candidates that much older when they finally enter.
 
Financial concerns are another reason. New members are expected to work and older candidates have fewer years to do so. There are also greater potential healthcare costs associated with aging.

But the biggest reason is that communities have found that it is harder to adjust to community life after living as a single or previously married Catholic for so many years. The transition to community life and the loss of independence at a later age is simply too difficult for many older discerners. It's also hard for religious who have spent their lives in community to adjust to new members who have had a lifetime of very different experiences.

However, finding a community when you're older is not impossible. Below are links to resources that might help you, including a list of communities that will consider older discerners.

I don’t read papal documents. What do I need to know about Laudato Si?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Monday 14, August 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Pope Francis
Laudato Si
The pope puts the urgency of his argument bluntly: “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.”

I don’t read many papal documents either. Nor bishops’ letters, to be honest. I make exceptions for those that are turning points in the church’s self-understanding. These would include Vatican II Constitutions, like those on the church (Lumen Gentium), on divine revelation (Dei verbum), and the church in the modern world (Gaudium et spes).  When I read statements like these that express a bold gospel vision for the future, it makes me wish I read more papal documents.

Pope Francis’ graceful encyclical on the environment (Laudato Si, “On Care For Our Common Home”) is one such game-changing text. The pope puts the urgency of his argument bluntly: “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.” This is no dry repetition of churchy ideas: God made the world, life is sacred, respect the planet, and love your neighbor as you recycle. In fact, the pope’s been criticized by some for NOT writing that document. Instead, he’s presenting a vital summons to the global conscience anchored in the language of the age—science, economics, and social theory—yet cradled in scripture, prayer, and passionate moral appeal. The pope touches third-rail politics and tramples on toes; but who wants a pope who minces pieties or holds his tongue? As Teresa of Avila said: “The world is in flames! Let’s not waste our prayer bothering God with trifles!”

Impressively, this is not just a Vatican document. The pope quotes his fellow bishops around the world, voices that are seldom heard: from Canada, Japan, Paraguay, Bolivia, Portugal, New Zealand. He’s as comfortable citing the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church as he is the canon of saints, leaping from international conference findings to sacramental realities. Laudato Si sounds the warning to this generation and points toward hope. If you’re not stunned, breathless, and convicted by this message, go back and read it again.

And yes, it has 246 paragraphs, which is a lot to read in one sitting. Read a paragraph a day and be done in eight months. But I bet you can’t stop at one. You’ll be collecting pearls like I did: “We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family.” “We are not God.” “The earth is essentially a shared inheritance.” “Purchasing is always a moral act.” Happy collecting.

Scripture -

Genesis 1:31; 2:15; 3:17-19; Psalm 24:1; 104:31; Sirach 38:4; Wisdom 11:24; Luke 12:3; John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:16

Website -

Laudato Si

(On Care for Our Common Home)

Pope Francis            

http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html


Is God a name, like Allah or Jesus?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Monday 14, August 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
God the Father
Monotheism clearly doesn’t mean God responds to one name only.

Most Christians tend to use God as the proper name of our Deity. As monotheists (believers in one Divine Being), we profess that all other gods are false. This is another way of saying our God IS God, and there is no other. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah was very keen on this point, in an era when his fellow countrymen were perfectly content to worship any divinity that might help them get ahead.

The claim that the Holy One of Judeo-Christian tradition is a singular Divinity doesn’t necessarily imply that God the Father doesn’t answer to other names or respond to worshippers of other religions who make their prayers in other forms. In Scripture, the writers use many names for the Holy One of Israel: El, Elohim, El-Shaddai, and especially the name too sacred to say out loud—YHWH—usually replaced with Adonai, which is the respectful title “Lord”. In most Bibles, when you see the all-caps rendition of LORD, you know the name intended is the four unspeakable letters known as the Tetragrammaton. Monotheism clearly doesn’t mean God responds to one name only. It simply rejects the notion that there are multitudes of gods out there who must be appealed to separately or even selectively. God is ONE.

Having said that, please note that the name of God we invoke does matter greatly, since traditions vary as to the nature of the Holy One to whom we are appealing. The God of Judeo-Christian tradition is a self-revealing God who seeks an intimate relationship with us. By means of our sacred history, we understand our God to be moral and just, not simply powerful and capricious. The Bible reveals God to be Lord of creation and history, stronger than empires but also respectful of human freedom. Finally, in the person of Jesus, God’s self-revelation takes a dramatic turn. God makes common cause with us by sharing our life, with its limitations and suffering, including death. Through this daring and loving incarnation, the God we profess changes the rules of time and mortality.

All of this sidesteps the question: if God isn’t really a name, what is it? Linguistically, God is a noun that describes what theologian Terrence Tilley calls “the irreducible center of meaning, power, and value.” This definition covers all the kinds of gods we may chase after: money, control, celebrity, love. We need to be clear, not only which name we choose for God, but which God we choose for ourselves.

Scripture -

Exodus 3:13-14; 6:2-8; 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:6-7; 32:39; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10-13; 44:6-8; 48:12-13; John 1:1-18; Acts 17:22-31; 1 Corinthians 3:21-  22; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Books -

Chasing Mystery, by Carey Walsh (Liturgical Press)

What Is the Point of Being a Christian? – Timothy Radcliffe (Burns & Oates)

Why should I go to church?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 08, June 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy,Prayer and Spirituality
Pope Francis sees servile obedience as the wrong spirit in which to develop a mature faith. The church exists to console, clarify, and challenge us.

It’s interesting that Richard Gaillardetz asks the same question—and he’s a professional ecclesiologist, whose business it is to explain the church. Yet he admits convincing his own children of the necessity of going to church is another matter entirely. Why does church attendance need persuasion?

Gaillardetz identifies four troublesome modern obstacles. The first is widespread institutional distrust. We just haven’t seen all that many churches, banks, governments, or schools with a sterling track record lately. Add to that the more recent conflation of religion with partisan politics. Now, it seems, your church comes with obligatory party affiliation attached! That is understandably distasteful to many. A third problem with church affiliation is the social decline of absolutes. We once hung our hats on doctrine with confidence. But today a black-and-white approach to any issue seems simplistic, self-righteous, and begging to be debunked. Frankly, we don’t want some exterior machinery regulating what we’re allowed to believe about our reality. Finally, there’s the “fragilization” of religious identity. This lovely term expresses how religion, once the defining principle of a person’s life, has recently been downgraded to a lifestyle choice: a thing you have, rather than a thing you are. So, Catholic paraphernalia may be in your ethical toolkit. But you don’t see yourself as “a Catholic” anymore.

All of which explains why more people are skipping church. It doesn’t argue why they might not want to. Gaillardetz suggests that church might benefit from a reintroduction: not as mind-controlling Hall of Obedience, but a re-imagined School of Discipleship. Such a school exists to form us in the way of Jesus, not to keep us on the straight-and-narrow (much less save us from eternal fires). Old-school church asks different questions of us: “What do you think or believe about God, morality, your place in the scheme of things?” The School of Discipleship model asks, rather: “Whom do you love?”

This approach is in keeping with the teaching of Pope Francis, who sees servile obedience as the wrong spirit in which to develop a mature faith. The church exists to console, clarify, and challenge us. It shouldn’t simply deliver to the adherent a longer set of reliable truths than the person down the street enjoys. In the School of Discipleship, we would decree or forbid less, and trust ourselves as “liturgical animals” more. Rituals work on us as we worship, teaching and shaping us as we say grace, give alms, fast, stand in praise, kneel in humility, or share a meal. This is what church does best.

Scripture: Exodus 20:8-11; Isaiah 2:2-5; Joel 2:12-17; Matthew 18:20; John 17:20-26; Acts 2:1-4, 42-47

Books: A Church With Open Doors: Catholic Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium – Richard Gaillardetz (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 2015)

Go Into the Streets: the Welcoming Church of Pope Francis – Thomas Rausch and Richard Gaillardetz, eds. (Mahwah, MJ: Paulist Press, 2016)

What is the common good?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 08, June 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Pope Francis
Common good
“The attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of the civil authorities,” Pope John Paul II declared.
Human nature may be viewed from two perspectives: the individual or the social. Which perspective reveals our true identity? Our society ensures we’re well schooled in individual rights and freedoms. From these principles I will navigate toward goals that satisfy my longing for the good life. I may believe that striving for what I want leads to my fulfillment. I may expect the state to safeguard the pursuit of my prosperity by whatever means necessary.
 

The common good, a tenet of Catholic social justice teaching, moves from the opposite assumption. It presumes human nature is essentially social. It’s not good for us to be alone, as our Creator originally determined. Our fulfillment involves creating conditions that are good for all of God’s children, with whom we share an origin and destiny. This creates a different expectation of the state: “the attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of the civil authorities,” Pope John Paul II declared in Pacem in Terris.

Once we embrace the social nature of the person, the common good becomes a new lens through which to view social policy. What do rights and freedoms look like from a social perspective? Pacem in Terris defends the right to bodily integrity for all, including what’s necessary for life’s proper development: food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and social services. The common good requires freedom to worship, work, and form associations—to gather for mutually beneficial reasons. Immigration becomes a universal right, to care for one’s family or security. All should be free to take an active role in public life as well.

Some resist the common good ideal as a brand of totalitarianism: a system that subordinates the individual to the group. Totalitarians don’t value a universal good, but only their party’s vision of the good. The common good has also been suspect as a communist value. It doesn’t erase individual rights or deny private property; it does view them as limited by and subordinate to the needs of others whose existence is in jeopardy. Pope John Paul II spoke of  “the universal destination of goods”; that the good things of this world are intended to be shared. He also boldly proposed that “personal property is under a social mortgage”. What belongs to us is ours as stewards of God’s gifts, not as guardians of our personal stash.

Scripture: Genesis 2:18; Isaiah 2:2-5; 25:6-10; Romans 14:7-9; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:1-6, 15-16; Philippians 2:3-4

Website: Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue (ICCD) A free resource related to the common good can be found at www.iccdinstitute.org. 

Books: Common Good, Uncommon Questions – William C. Graham, ed. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014)

Public Theology and the Global Common Good – Kevin Ahern, ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016)

Why is prejudice against Catholics called “the deepest bias in the history of the American people”?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 04, May 2017 Categories: Church History
Anti-Catholic prejudice
The spirit of nativism arose in some Protestant enclaves, as migrating waves from historically Catholic countries arrived on “their” shores.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Sr.—not a Catholic—made the oft-quoted assertion. It acknowledges that England rallied to Protestantism with the establishment of its national church, and British mistrust of Rome was imported to the New World. So few Catholics came to the colonies (35,000, or 1% of the population by 1790) that no threat seemed apparent. Catholics kept to themselves in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The 1800s, however, saw a century of massive immigration. The spirit of nativism arose in some Protestant enclaves, as migrating waves from historically Catholic countries arrived on “their” shores. Catholicism gained an official foothold with the appointment of John Carroll as Bishop of the new See of Baltimore. Carroll put an emphasis on opening seminaries and schools, to create a homegrown, educated leadership and laity capable of engaging the national conversation. The schools attracted religious orders from Europe to staff them, and as convent schools sprung up in the Northeast and Midwest, nativist alarms grew louder. 

A church was burned in Charlestown, Massachusetts, followed by two more in Philadelphia. Convents and rectories were likewise visited with arson. A visiting papal nuncio was burned in effigy in many cities. In Indiana, Mother Theodore Guerin’s sisters were spat upon in the streets and denied the customary store credit. Wherever Katharine Drexel purchased land for schools, she typically worked through agents so the sellers didn’t know the buyer was Catholic.

Nativist groups assumed names such as the “United Sons of America” in 1844 and “Order of the Star-Spangled Banner” in 1849. The latter became known as the “Know-Nothings” for their secrecy about their membership. Future U.S. saints including Guerin, Drexel, Philippine Duchesne, John Neumann, Marianne Cope, and Frances Cabrini all reported dealings with Know-Nothings and their offshoots. Finally, the most aspiring opposition group, the American Protective Association, was founded in 1887. APA members swore not to hire Catholics, enter into business with them, or elect them to public office. They sought to curtail immigration to stanch the Catholic population, and falsified scandalous documents from the pope or bishops to perpetuate fear of Rome. At its height in 1894, a million Americans were on the rolls of the APA, and the group controlled local governments in Detroit, Milwaukee, and Kansas City.

The APA fizzled by 1911; by 1915, a reconstituted Ku Klux Klan added anti-Catholicism to its principles. The story of U.S. bias has hardly reached its end.

Books: Documents of American Catholic History – John Tracy Ellis (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1987)

The Party of Fear – David Bennett (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988)


Why does going to Mass on Saturday night “count” to fulfill the Sunday obligation?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 04, May 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Liturgy
Saturday evening Mass
The Hebrew definition of a day is measured from one desert sundown to the next.

Plenty of folks, including my Dad, have viewed the “Saturday Five” Mass as an unwelcome innovation. It’s been decried as one more Vatican II accommodation to flabby Catholicism: dumbing down our vigorous commitment to the Precepts of the Church. Most decriers would be surprised to hear that a prior evening anticipatory Mass was recommended and defended by 4th-century heavyweights including Augustine and Jerome. Where does the idea come from?

The fifth verse in the Bible declares: “Evening came, and morning followed—the first day.” The phrase is repeated after each of the first six days of creation, giving rise to the Hebrew definition of a day as measured from one desert sundown to the next. Examples in both Testaments testify that time makes a significant shift at sundown: the Temple is closed as shadows lengthen, or crowds bring their sick to Jesus as night falls. Even Easter is counted as “the third day” when the women approach the tomb under cover of darkness.

To be on the safe side in observing erev (Hebrew “evening”), rabbis say wait for three stars to appear in the sky. When you think about it, the concept that the a.m. (ante meridiem, Latin for “before noon”) period begins at midnight is not much more than a decision. The day has to start somewhere.

Jewish practice carries over in the anticipatory Mass for Sunday, or the Vigil Mass of a feast. In 1969, Paul VI wrote that ''the observance of Sunday and solemnities begins with the evening of the preceding day.” Although this was a moto proprio (personal papal initiative), it built on formal teaching issued two years earlier granting permission for the anticipatory Mass. It also acknowledged what the Liturgy of the Hours had promoted for centuries: a Sunday celebration lasting from Evening Prayer on Saturday night until Evening Prayer on Sunday.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law notes that “assist[ing] at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass." (no.1248) The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass. The precept … is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.” (no.2180)

Scriptures: Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; Leviticus 23:5, 32; Nehemiah 13:19; Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 4:40; 2 Peter 1:19

Books: Celebrating the Easter Vigil – Rupert Berger, Hans Hollerweger, eds. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1983)

Let Us Pray: A Guide to the Rubrics of Sunday Mass – Paul Turner (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012)

Don’t we have to obey what the church teaches, or be kicked out?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Saturday 15, April 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Catholic school teacher
Teaching is not about imparting abstract truths written in stone but awakening an appreciation for the rules that govern reality.

The phrasing of this question suggests a difficult academic experience! The church’s role as teacher, expressed as magisterium, describes the church as “master” in the school of faith. But who, precisely, holds this authoritative position? Thomas Aquinas applied the term magisterium to the university professor (master of a given subject) as well as to the bishop. Our present understanding limits the teaching role to popes and other bishops, who in turn rely on Scripture and tradition.

Most of us are lulled by our past schooling to equate teaching with telling—and not listening as grounds for failure or even expulsion. “I am teacher, hear me impose!”, as a professor once summarized. This relationship to the teacher/headmaster presumes that teaching is a matter of laying down the law or the truth. If teaching is merely telling, then what the bishop says, rules. Not submitting is therefore a kind of crime with consequences that match the severity of the offense.

The Old Testament word for law or commandment is also understood as guidance. Law dominates from a higher position; guidance operates as a benevolent companionship—like the fellow holding the lamp just ahead so you can find your way on the footpath. This fellow may call out instructions—“Avoid the thorny branches on the left!”—because if you don’t, there will be consequences, some costly. Yet this fellow’s not out there to identify and punish your failures along the route. His intent is always that you make your way safely.

“Teaching is a real-world intervention,” as professor Molly Hiro notes. It’s not about imparting abstract truths written in stone but awakening an appreciation for the rules that govern reality. History is full of competing truths that have led along some pretty dark routes. When the church teaches, it shines light on the path to assist our discernment of the morally secure way. Just as in mathematics, not all rules are created equal. Some bend, others are unyielding. It takes practice and experience along the path to know which is which.

When Augustine reflected on a more biblical relationship to law, he arrived at this conclusion: “Love, and do as you will.” If love truly does shape and inform our will, then we can safely follow it. The church describes this condition as “the informed conscience,” the highest authority to which we must answer. This doesn’t mean we should ignore the fellow with the lantern, calling out from his long mastery of this road. Love is the subject he’s mastered, and it’s the lamp he shares with us.

Scripture: John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 14:6; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:4—13:13

Books: The Church, Learning and Teaching: Magisterium, Asset, Dissent, and Academic Freedom – Ladislas Orsy (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1987)

With the Smell of the Sheep: the Poe Speaks to Priests, Bishops, and Other Shepherds – Pope Francis (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017)

How do I reconcile patriotism and faith? Sometimes it feels like dueling citizenships!

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Saturday 15, April 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
American flag
Our greatness as a nation doesn’t have to come at the expense of our goodness as a community.

Is there anything wrong with wanting our country to be the best, the first, the greatest? Of course not. Most of us have a natural loyalty to the land of our birth, as well as to any later adopted country. I think of my grandparents, three of whom were born in Europe. They were the most enthusiastic U.S. boosters you can possibly imagine, and no one celebrated the Fourth of July like they did. Yet they also spoke wistfully of the old country: about the communities, customs, and languages they surrendered to come here. Citizens of two places, they held allegiances to both. Yet it would be wrong to say their hearts were divided or in any way compromised by these loyalties. They each had very clear reasons why they had chosen the difficult path of immigration.

Is it any different for us who count ourselves as citizens of this world AND the kingdom of God? In this case, we’re not talking about geographic territories, but alternate realms with often competing values. For example, in your country a thing may be legal that is nonetheless immoral to a Christian. So yes: we must acknowledge that sometimes our values as citizens of countries are on a collision course with Christian values that compel us in a primary way. That may make us conflicted; it should. When values collide, we’re obliged to choose among loyalties, which is never that simple.

Back to wanting to be the greatest: Is this idea in conflict with the spirit of the reign of God, in which the last will be first, and the meek shall inherit the earth? I don’t think one could sell many hats that say “Make My Country Meek.” But I do think Christians need to ask the question: What is the basis for my country's greatness: For what should my country be great? For whom? For ALL residents, or just some? ONLY for my country, or for the common good of the international community that shares this little planet? Our greatness as a nation doesn’t have to come at the expense of our goodness as a community. It doesn't have to come in a limited, materialistic, or military sense; and only for an exclusive number of approved citizens. This interpretation of greatness is obviously in conflict with the great goodness of God. When such conflicts happen, it does require us to consider, which citizenship do I value more: that of my country or that of God's kingdom?

Scripture: Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-5; 49:6; Matthew 5:1-16; Luke 6:20-36; Acts 3:25

Books: Politics, Religion, and the Common Good – Martin E. Marty (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000)

On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good – Jim Wallis (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2013)

Our priest cancelled Saturday Vigil Mass, citing Dies Domini and pastoral necessity. Is this valid?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Saturday 01, April 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
Saturday evening Mass
The Saturday evening Mass isn’t a Vigil, but an anticipatory Mass for Sunday.

This column isn’t designed to challenge local pastoral decisions, which can be more complex than they appear. But let’s start by clarifying terminology for the nitpickers: the Saturday evening Mass isn’t a Vigil, but an anticipatory Mass for Sunday. On Saturday night, we use the same Scripture readings and prayers prescribed for Sunday. So the Saturday evening 5 p.m. liturgy IS a “Sunday Mass,” liturgically speaking.

Vigil Masses have distinct texts, or “Propers,” associated with them. Vigils are approved for: Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension Thursday, Pentecost, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mother. When you attend Vigil Masses, the readings and prayers are different from (though thematically related to) those used on the feasts themselves.

Dies Domini (“The Lord’s Day”) is a 1998 Apostolic Letter from Pope John Paul II "to the bishops, clergy and faithful of the Catholic Church on keeping the Lord’s Day holy.” It affirms the important role of Sunday in the life of the believer, and the vital part Eucharist plays in the context of the Sunday Sabbath. It expresses concern that the significance of a Sabbath day not be obscured by the separation of the celebration of Eucharist from the traditional morning observance.

Does Dies Domini address the validity of attending a Saturday anticipatory mass? Yes. #49 of the document states: “Because the faithful are obliged to attend Mass unless there is a grave impediment, Pastors have the corresponding duty to offer to everyone the real possibility of fulfilling the precept. The provisions of Church law move in this direction, as for example in the faculty granted to priests, with the prior authorization of the diocesan Bishop, to celebrate more than one Mass on Sundays and holy days, the institution of evening Masses and the provision which allows the obligation to be fulfilled from Saturday evening onwards…”

“Pastoral necessity” refers to the modern reality that many Catholics need to work on Sunday in order to provide for their families. Because of this, it becomes pastorally necessary to provide an opportunity for people to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist during non-working hours, specifically Saturday evenings. To my knowledge, there’s no impediment preventing a person who doesn’t work on Sunday from attending the Saturday anticipatory Mass. Nor have I met many pastors eager to have the greeter do a “necessity check” at the church door on Saturday nights.

Scripture: Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Books: Dies Domini: Apostolic Letter – Pope John Paul II (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000)

“Anticipating the Sunday and Feast Day Masses on the Previous Evening,” Instruction on Eucharistic Worship. Sacred Congregation of Rites (Washington, DC: USCC, 1967)


With the recent opposition to Muslim immigrants, I wonder: Were Catholics always welcomed here?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Saturday 01, April 2017 Categories: Church History
Catholic/Muslim
The intention of the Know-Nothing Party was to curb the Catholic population—which required keeping the Irish, Polish, Italians, and half the Germans from emigrating. Image: New York Times.

Definitely not. The original American Dream didn’t include “Romish” or “Popish” adherents. In pre-colonial times, of course, a strong Catholic presence seemed likely. Of the three powers claiming New World territory, Spain was officially Catholic, with church and state operating in unison. Spanish regions such as Florida, Texas, the Southwest, and California were colonized by soldiers and missionized by priests almost seamlessly. France also exported Catholicism by means of Jesuit missionaries throughout the Louisiana Territory. 

However, the English presence in the Northeast assumed control of the American narrative in generations leading up to the Revolution. The Mayflower and subsequent ships brought all manner of Christian sects seeking freedom from the Catholic influence. Except for Maryland, the colonies were decidedly Protestant.

British law left its mark on the colonies. Public Mass was forbidden. So were Catholic schools. Catholics in Maryland were obliged to send their children to Europe for an education, since local schools were predominantly run by ministers whose biases were expressed in classroom worship and the curriculum. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington had to request special permission to permit Lafayette and his men access to priestly ministry. After independence was declared, only one Catholic signature was affixed to the document: Charles Carroll, whose brother John would become the first U.S. bishop.

Opposition didn’t disappear after the new country was launched. The Know-Nothing Party was a secret society established a half-century later. Adherents received their peculiar name for their refusal to admit any knowledge of their organization. Their intention was to curb the Catholic population—which required keeping the Irish, Polish, Italians, and half the Germans from emigrating. They lobbied for a 21-year ban on immigration. Members were responsible for church, rectory, and convent burnings, and published scandalous accusations against church leaders. They also launched a presidential candidate, Millard Fillmore, in 1856. The Know-Nothing Party was replaced by the American Protective Association, which pledged to keep Catholics out of elected office, to curtail immigration, and to lengthen the period before naturalization. At its height, the APA had more than a million members and was influential until 1911.

Scriptures: Leviticus 33-34; Exodus 15:15; Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Job 31:19-22; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Malachi 3:5; Matthew 25:31-46

Books: The American Catholic Experience – Jay P. Dolan (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985)

American Catholicism – John Tracy Ellis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969)

Is Pope Francis the first Catholic leader to address the environment?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Monday 06, February 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Environment
The beauty of creation is a long-appreciated path to knowledge of God. 

While Catholics may seem late to the topic of ecology, Pope Francis was not being a maverick with his widely heralded (and in some quarters, loudly denounced) encyclical, Laudato Si’. In 1988, Philippine bishops had already produced a pastoral letter titled: “What Is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?” Pope John Paul II spoke on the World Day of Peace concerning “The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility” in 1990. U.S. bishops followed with a statement of their own in 1992: “Renewing the Earth.”

Of course, Saint Francis of Assisi was all about preserving the harmony between us and the natural world in the 13th century. Even the birdbath saint was beaten to the game by Hildegard of Bingen a century earlier. Fourth-century Augustine was earlier still, with his lengthy commentaries on Genesis and Creation. Benedict of Nursia followed suit in his attentiveness to creation in the 6th century, though he’s remembered mostly for his monastic rule. As fellow creatures, we have a lot invested in our stewardship of this planet. Our role as Gardener-in-Chief is well established in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

To appreciate the scope of church teaching on the environment, it’s necessary to consider documents that aren’t explicitly about ecology. For example, in 1991 Pope John Paul II wrote Centesimus Annus to mark the century since the issue of Pope Leo XIII’s bold social teaching, Rerum Novarum. In it, the Pope criticized scientific advances that come at the expense of the environment, as well as the toll of warfare, and the disparity of adverse environmental impacts on poorer communities.

What makes it seem like Catholics have ignored the green movement is the otherworldly emphasis of our public profile—and in some cases, a genuinely imbalanced focus on the life of the world to come among some Catholics. Such imbalance is corrected with a renewed appreciation of a few long-standing teachings. The common good, for instance, maintains the good things of the earth belong to all of us. This includes the right to live in a safe environment, whether poor or rich. At the same time, the poor are not to be cut out of progress and development; therefore, ways to sustainable development must be found that serve all. The value of solidarity further insists we must act with other nations to achieve what’s beneficial to global health. Finally, the beauty of creation is a long-appreciated path to knowledge of God. To lose it is to lose a source of profound communion.

Scripture:

Genesis 1:1—2:15; Psalms 8, 19, 104, 148; John 1:1-5; Romans 8:18-23; Colossians 1:15-20

Books: 

Option for the Poor and for the Earth: From Leo XIII to Pope Francis – Donal Dorr (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016)

Living Cosmology: Christian Responses to Journey of the Universe – eds. Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016). This includes a book, documentary film, and conversation series.

Do all Christians basically agree on the purpose of baptism, Eucharist, and ministry?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Monday 06, February 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Sacraments
Christian unity
The bishops see much that’s mutual, but not enough for Christians to share Eucharist together.

Such agreement is crucial to hope for Christian unity. Many find hope in the 1982 documents, “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry.” BEM, for short, was produced in Lima by the World Council of Churches—a 348-member organization including most denominations you’ve heard of: Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Mennonite, and Quaker. The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t belong to the WCC, the rationale being that the Church of Rome IS the Church. Joining an organization that renders us one “church” among equals sends the wrong message.

BEM was a work in progress since 1928. The resulting documents have been closely studied by the U.S. bishops. Here’s a short summary of their assessment. BEM on Baptism has much to be admired. Its teaching on Baptism as a cleansing from sin, gift of the Spirit, incorporation into the Body of Christ, all in the name of the Trinity, is sound. BEM recognizes Baptism’s “unrepealable” nature. It describes it as the foundation of, but no substitution for, a life of faith—a nod to both infant and adult baptism.

The bishops’ takeaway: BEM needs work in treating the Spirit’s and the church’s role in Baptism. The unity of all sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) should be clarified. The BEM distinction drawn between infant baptism and “believer’s baptism” (for adults) is an “unfortunate” phrase. But a movement toward a formal mutual recognition of Christian baptisms is plausible.

Regarding Eucharist, BEM calls it a “thanksgiving, memorial, invocation, communion, and meal of the kingdom.” BEM churches agree with Rome that frequent celebration of Eucharist is desirable. They concur that the entire Eucharistic celebration, not a single “moment of consecration,” makes Christ really present. BEM rightly stresses the social and ethical dimensions that travel with us from the Table to the world.

The bishops would like to see more about how the nature of the church is a direct result of our Eucharist; clarification of how Christ is present as spiritual food; how Christ remains present even when the sacrament is reserved, as in the Tabernacle. The bishops see much that’s mutual, but not enough for Christians to share Eucharist together.

BEM views Ministry as the vocation of all Christians, while holding a distinct place for the ordained kind. It acknowledges the apostolic origins of bishop, presbyter, and deacon. U.S. bishops agree on “interdependence and reciprocity” between the laity and the ordained. They await more clarity on the uniqueness of ordination, its relationship to sacramental ministry, particularly in the forgiveness of sins. Finally, the ordination of women remains a sticking point between BEM and Rome. Reason to hope for unity? Yes. But not for holding your breath.

Scripture:

Mark 6:34-44; 14:22-25; Matthew 16:18-19; 28:19-20; John 6:22-58; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 12:1-31; 1 Timothy 3:1-13

Websites:

World Council of Churches site for entire BEM text:

http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/commissions/faith-and-order/i-unity-the-church-and-its-mission/baptism-eucharist-and-ministry-faith-and-order-paper-no-111-the-lima-text?searchterm=bem

USCCB site for bishops’ statements regarding BEM:

http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/ecumenical/orthodox/statement-lima-baptism-eucharist-and-ministry.cfm

What is natural law?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 05, January 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Natural law
Natural law remains a fundamental principle in Catholic moral teaching today.

Natural law is the principle that there are higher truths than those dictated by societies and their institutions. It claims these truths are embedded in the natural order of creation. This tradition originated in the Roman Republic with thinkers like Cicero, who reacted against Aristotle’s fierce support for the state centuries earlier. Aristotle had held that society was justified in subjecting women, slaves, and barbarians since they were incapable of moral judgment. Proponents of natural law held that all humans were moral beings; therefore institutions of subjugation were unjust. It was a radical proposition to take back then! 

Natural law adherents admitted that government, while “unnatural,” was a necessary force in society to ensure the protection of the weak from oppression by the strong. Church fathers like Augustine would embrace natural law to express just war theory: that while killing was a moral evil, in certain circumstances it was a necessary action to protect the weak.

For many centuries, natural law was wielded by reformers as much as by conservative factions. In the Middle Ages, however, thinkers began applying these ideas to questions of personal morality as well as to social institutions. Sexual and medical choices were scrutinized according to their biological fittingness. Aquinas was less likely to consider natural law in terms of social systems as Augustine used it.

By the time of the Enlightenment, natural law had bifurcated. Philosophers based the doctrine of universal human rights on its principles and urged political reforms that would incorporate this ideal. Catholic thinkers utilized natural law almost exclusively in terms of personal morality. The Catholic position contrasted the natural design of creation with “the unnatural”—against God’s directive and therefore beyond argument.

Natural law remains a fundamental principle in Catholic moral teaching today. At its best, it admits the existence of universally binding moral principles that all humanity might embrace by reason alone. Yet many modern theologians are uncomfortable with a complete capitulation to a law that admits no conversation with Scripture or expanding church tradition. What’s in and what’s outside the immutable boundaries of natural law continue to be hotly debated.

Scriptures: Genesis chapter 1; Exodus 20:1-17; Psalms 8, 19, 104, 119; Proverbs 1:20—2:22; 9:1-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 5:3-12, 17-20; John 1:1-5, 14; 3:31-36; 14:15-27; Hebrews 8:7-12; 10:16

Books: Searching for a Universal Ethic: Multidisciplinary, Ecumenical, and Interfaith Responses to the Catholic Natural Law Tradition –eds. John Berkman and William Mattison III (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014)

Catholic Moral Theology and Social Ethics: A New Method – Christina Astorga (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013)


Some of my friends view belief in God as anti-intellectual.

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 05, January 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Faith versus reason
Faith and reason spring from the same created reality and are in this sense mutually dependent on divine revelation.

The relationship between faith and reason can seem complicated, but is not contradictory. I admit when I was in college, I went to the Newman Center with the same agenda. It seemed there were two camps on campus: the Christians and the thinkers. I went to the priest to find out if it were necessary to choose between the two, which I was not at all comfortable doing.

The priest pointed me toward something wonderful—the rich Catholic intellectual tradition. I learned a valuable teaching from Vatican I: there can be no contradiction between faith and reason, since God is the author of both. Faith and reason spring from the same created reality and are in this sense mutually dependent on divine revelation. This may sound strange, since we think of revelation as a mysterious process involving heavenly apparitions and miraculous unfoldings. Yet talk to a researcher uncovering a new principle concerning the way time operates, or how the human brain functions. Revelation is a word not inconsistent with that scientific seeker’s experience.

If something is discovered to be true, therefore, it cannot be an obstacle to faith. Faith must expand to admit what is true. This explains why the same church that once condemned Galileo’s teachings as a threat to religious belief had to apologize and restore Galileo’s integrity as a Catholic thinker in the long run. God is truth, and truth cannot deny itself.

Needless to say, it would have been better if church leaders hadn’t rejected Galileo to start with! Frequently the obstacle to embracing truth is our faith in our own fallible perception, rather than faith in God.  It takes courage to remain open to the possibility that we’re wrong in our present opinions, comprehension, and vision. More recent popes have viewed science as a partner in the quest for truth rather than an adversary to religious faith.

Two positions are unhelpful to those who think and believe. One is fideism, the other rationalism. Fideism imagines that all truth drops from heaven unaided by human activity. Moral principles are to be accepted and incorporated without nuance, reflection, or relationship to other avenues of knowledge. Fideists don’t want to argue, they just want to imbibe right principles. Rationalists believe all truth can be apprehended and judged by human reason alone. Religious ideas improvable by scientific means are deemed irrelevant if not invalid.

Scriptures: Job 38:1—42:6; Psalm 8; Isaiah 55:6-9; John 1:1-4; 14:6; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 13:9-12; Hebrews 11:1; 1 John 1:1-4

Books: The Bible and Science: Longing for God in a Science-Dominated World – Vincent M. Smiles (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011)

Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think – Elaine Howard Ecklund (New York; Oxford University Press, 2010)

How did the veneration of relics get started?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 29, November 2016 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints,Prayer and Spirituality
Mother Teresa relic
A relic of Saint Teresa of Calcuttaa drop of her bloodat St. Ita Catholic Church in Chicago.

A relic is an object kept in tribute to a holy person. Some relics are body parts such as bone chips or teeth. Others are items once belonging to the person, most often snips of clothing. Catholics aren’t alone in collecting relics. Other religions like Buddhism employ them. People of faith backgrounds that permit it keep cremains of loved ones in an urn on the mantle (See here for Vatican instruction on Catholic burial, cremation). I have a shirt that belonged to my dad, which I still wear. Relics are a traditional way of keeping in touch with someone special.

Catholic relics are as old as the church. Martyrdom was a frequent if not typical cause of Christian death. The faithful collected the martyrs’ remains, often in pieces, for secret burial in places like catacombs. When available, the instrument of death was spirited off as well. Think: relics from the True Cross. Christians gathered at martyrs’ tombs to celebrate Eucharist. When the persecutions finally ceased, churches were erected on the gravesites. Christians considered burial near a martyr a privilege. A tug-of-war over these bodies became typical; some were exhumed and re-interred on the properties of those who could afford it. In the Middle Ages, Crusaders pilfered lots of relics and carried them to Europe.

Relics were catechetically useful. They spurred interest in the saint whose virtues might be imitated. In 410, a council in Carthage ruled that saints’ shrines had to contain authentic relics or be destroyed. In 767, a Nicaean council determined that every altar must contain a relic or Mass could not be celebrated on it. This decree echoes the original practice of celebrating Mass on the graves of martyrs and is upheld in current canon law (no.1237). Exceptions are made today for portable altars such as those used in wartime.

Selling relics has always been forbidden. Church law says significant relics can’t even be moved around without express permission from the Vatican (no. 1190).

Attributing magical powers to such items is considered an abuse, but the tendency to be superstitious about holy objects is not unknown in the modern church. From the Holy Grail to the Shroud of Turin, the curious and the credulous will always find a less than edifying fascination with such objects. Church teaching draws a distinction between proper and improper veneration. Worship belongs to God alone. Even if a saint should appear suddenly in an apparition, human honor is the limit of our tribute.

Scripture: The Bible regards holiness as a divine attribute communicable to people, places, and things (e.g. Moses’ shining face, the Ark and its sacred utensils, the Temple’s Holy of Holies.) The topic of relics, specifically, is not treated. But see 2 Kings 13:20-21; Mark 5:25-34; Acts 5:12-15

Books: Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics – Thomas Craughwell (New York: Image Books, 2011)

Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe – Charles Freeman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012)

Why do we worship in buildings instead of in God’s beautiful creation?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 29, November 2016 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Church building
The word temple means "to be cut from": to be separate from ordinary use and reserved for sacred encounter.

The fixed sanctuary of meeting between God and mortals is an old concept. Your instinct is correct that creation seems perfect for the job. Sacred space is meant to display the cosmos in miniature: a unified center where heaven, earth, and the underworld intersect. Just as mountains reach into the heavens, and roots push deep into the soil, the holy place conjoins the three anciently acknowledged realms. The achievement of this unity is evident in the designs of temples, cathedrals, pyramids, ziggurats, pagodas, monoliths, and even the towering sacred trees venerated in northern lands.

As in many religions, the Judeo-Christian tradition regards this design as divinely supplied. So Moses gets the blueprint for a sanctuary from God at Sinai, as does King Solomon for the Jerusalem temple. Ezekiel receives a revitalized one in a vision after the first temple is destroyed. John at Patmos envisions the Lamb as an incarnate temple in the reign of God at the end of time. In these episodes (which have parallels across ancient cultures), the leader or seer is given precise measurements for the job, including careful attention to the worship space’s orientation toward nature’s four directions and often including a source of living water. Other traditions incorporate architectural elements to interact with the sun and moon, and the seasonal calendar. The design of sacred space always acknowledges the superiority of God’s world design and is not intended to replace it, but rather to celebrate it.

Attention is likewise paid to the meaning of creation, and not just its patterns. The story of creation—again, in our biblical tradition and in other world religions—is a triumph of divine order over primordial chaos. Sacred geometry is therefore strictly observed in these designs, which explains the astonishing exactness of many structures from antiquity, as well as the patience of builders who begin a cathedral which none of them will see completed.

The word temple means "to be cut from": to be separate from ordinary use and reserved for sacred encounter. Our word contemplate reflects the understanding that contemplation is an activity enhanced by the temple, and also that the temple’s mysteries ideally reside inside the worshipper as well as around him or her. Jesus epitomized this understanding when he identified his own body with the Jerusalem temple. Paul repeated this teaching when he called each believer a temple. The more we consider sacred space, the more it can teach us.

Scripture: Genesis 28:10-22; Exodus 25-31; 1 Kings 5:15-7:51; Isaiah 28:16; Ezekiel 40-47:12; Matthew 16:18; John 2:13-22; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Revelation 21:22-22:5

Books: The Temple: Meeting Place of Heaven and Earth – John Lundquist (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012)

How to Read a Church: A Guide to Symbols and Images in Churches and Cathedrals – Richard Taylor (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press/HiddenSpring, 2005)

What are Catholics to believe about the Antichrist?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Friday 21, October 2016 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Fires of hell
Technically Antichrist is not a proper name, but rather the description of any power in the universe opposing God’s anointed (hence, anti-Christ).

Antichrist is a term found only in the first two Letters of John in the New Testament. Technically it’s not a proper name, but rather the description of any power in the universe opposing God’s anointed (hence, anti-Christ).

The Book of Daniel contains earlier biblical references to an apocalyptic monster known as the fourth beast. This terrifying creature appears in direct opposition to “one like a son of man”—a human being who is God’s special champion. The Book of Revelation later retrieves the son-of-man figure and identifies him with Christ. This pits Christ against the beast of Revelation associated with the number 666. This beast is clearly anti-Christ, though the term isn’t employed in either context.

Other references both in and out of the New Testament are corralled into the Antichrist category: Belial or Beliar, Gog and Magog, the ruler of this world, the lawless one, the deceiver. Some would include Old Testament anti-God figures such as Rahab the dragon, Leviathan the sea monster, or the Satan who plays adversary in God’s court. All are allusions to figures sufficiently arrogant to challenge the purposes of God. The Antichrist litmus test in John’s letters is unwillingness to pledge belief in God and Christ “in the flesh.” This test is directed at Gnostics, who viewed Jesus as a sort of divine mirage, not a human being. To John, anyone in the Gnostic camp is anti-Christ.

Paul warns against a “man of lawlessness” who would claim to be divine. Christians throughout history have deemed this figure THE Antichrist and have pointed him out in their own generations: Nero, Caligula, Arius and his followers. Martin Luther viewed the papacy as a likely candidate for the Antichrist. He wasn’t the first: as early as the 13th century, Catholics themselves wondered if popes such as John XII didn’t fit the bill.        

The notion of Antichrist became useful to medieval preachers, who rightly declared every sinner contains a spirit that counters Christ. Literature of the period drummed up backstory for the Antichrist: born of a human couple by demonic power, his biography is a mirror-image mockery of the story of Jesus complete with counterfeit miracles. Movies like “The Omen” play on this idea that a child will arrive at the end of time and inaugurate the full horrors of Revelation. Most Catholic scholars would say there’s no need to wait. A spirit in contradiction to Christ inhabits every generation. 

Scriptures: Isaiah 51:9; Pss 74:13-14; 89:11; Job 1:6-12; 26:12; Daniel 7; 8:23-25; 9:27; Mark 13:22; Matthew 24:24; John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 6:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10; 1 John 2:18-23; 4:3; 2 John 7-11; Revelation 13:1-18; 20:8

Books: Who Is Satan? According to the Scriptures – Joseph F. Kelly (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2013)

Sacra Pagina; 1, 2, and 3 John – John Painter (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016)

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