Monthly Archives: January 2014

Catholic Understanding of the General Truths of the Eucharist (Part III)

Today, we investigate the question: How can the Eucharistic Celebration – The Mass – be a Sacrifice?

As Catholics, we must reconcile two teachings. On the one hand, Trent teaches that each and every Mass is a sacrifice. Without explicitly asserting from what passages in Scripture this doctrine originates (or in which it is rooted), Trent declares that the Eucharist is a true and real sacrifice, i.e., the representation of the Sacrifice of Calvary, SCD 938. (SCD = Sources of Catholic Dogma, a very handy text I recommend. Or you could get the newest translation which is up to date, though it employs a newer numbering.)

Trent teaches that Jesus is immolated in an unbloody manner on the altar at every Mass, SCD 938, 940. It is “propitiatory” in the sense that it pleases and satisfies (appeases) the Father, as Christ’s death appeases the Father because we disobedient subjects paid the price of their sin in Christ, their Savior, SCD 940. (I.e., he paid it for us and draws us into the payment when he freely baptizes us, making us sharers in the payment.) Thus appeased, the Father grants forgiveness and new life.

Why ought there to be continual representations? Why should there be many Masses? The nature of man demands this. If you told your wife you love her once, why twice? If your first statement was true, it was unto death. Why then the second statement? I trust that wives know why.

We need repetition. Now, in this sacramental re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice, we draw fruits of that one offering. Similarly, husband and wife are renewed in their love when they truly re-speak their fidelity.

Perhaps Catholics need a wake-up call regarding the sacrifice of the Mass. They may have lost sight of what it is we believe. I include a few dogmatic declarations: SCD 948, The Mass is a “true and real sacrifice (verum et proprium).” Again, SCD 949 teaches that by the words, “Do this in commemoration of me (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24), Jesus instituted the Priesthood. Again, Canon 3, SCD 950, “If anyone says that the sacrifice of the Mass is only one of praise and thanksgiving, or that it is a mere commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the Cross, but not one of propitiation; or that it is of profit to him alone who receives; or that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities: let him be anathema.” Strong words, strong teaching—eternal life is at stake.

Is this just Medieval? Well, if it is dogma, it most certainly is not “just Medieval”. Dogma resounds eternally; it is in the archives of Being as God wills it to be, so to speak.

As a sign of this, we see that John Paul has recently expressed this same teaching, “By virtue of its close relationship to the sacrifice of Golgotha, the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense, and not only in a general way, as if it were simply a matter of Christ’s offering himself to the faithful as their spiritual food” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, art. 13). John Paul notes that the sacrifice is first of all a gift given to the Father. And we have lost sight of this. The Eucharist is chiefly an act given to God. It is not chiefly about us.

Similarly, heavenly life is chiefly about God, not chiefly about us. We shall be standing agape (pun – why not?) at God’s Beauty. We shall not primarily be saying to ourselves, “wow, I’m happy”; rather, we shall be lost in God. So too, at a great party, we seldom reflectively sit and say, “Hey, I’m glad I’m part of this marvelous event.” Rather, we just party. So, only secondly is the Eucharist about the forgiveness of sins and the food of life. However, to put these in order is not to put them in competition. It is to put them in order. It is to say that we are for God, not “God for us.” God indeed loves us, but his glory is not for our sake. Our glory is for his sake. Amen.


I have gotten off the track. In some respect. I must return to what needs to be Reconciled. What is the “other teaching” Catholics must hold? The Scriptures teach that Christ suffered “once for all” Heb 9:12. He did not suffer repeatedly Heb 9:25–26. Moreover, he offered but one sacrifice for all time, Hebrews10:11–14, since that sacrifice was perfect.

How can we reconcile these apparently contradictory indications?

First, we must recall that Christ is a priest “forever.” Thus, he lives forever to make intercession, ever holding his priestly office, Heb. 7:23–25. See also, Ps 110 (Ps 109 in the Latin and Greek numbering). The Church teaches that the Eucharist is not a “repeat sacrifice” but a renewed presence of that same very sacrifice. That Christ is a priest forever seems to factor into the unity of this one sacrifice and its real re-presentation throughout time and space.

Secondly, there are Scriptural bases for this doctrine. John Paul II rightly draws attention to the deeply Scriptural roots of this teaching. In Matthew 26:28, we read, “This is (estin) my blood… which is being poured out (ekchunnomenon).” In Luke 22:19 we have the following, “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is being given for you (estin, didomenon). Do this in remembrance of me.’” We have here a present progressive action. (The present participle is usually used for present action.) In addition to this present tense participle, the present tense of the main verb, is, seals the case: The blood of Christ “is being poured out” for you.

We must read this passage in light of its context in the life of Jesus: the Passover meal (Exodus 12:14; 13:9; Deut 16:3–6). The Jewish men are to tell their sons, “‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he slew the Egyptians but spared our houses,’” Exodus 12:27. In the re-presentations of this sacrifice through the ages, the head of the Jewish family was to interpret the Passover by referring the unleavened bread to the “bread of affliction” in Deuteronomy 16:3 (Joseph Fitzmeyer, Luke X–XXIV, vol. 28A (1985)). That is, these two ritual elements came to be (or always were) identified.

In his life, Jesus identifies himself with that bread (Fitzmeyer, p. 1399). If in the Old Testament times, the father is to point out the identity of the sacrificial victim by indicating a present “afflicted” reality, then Jesus is pointing out that he himself is that sacrificial lamb. Thus, the commemoration of Jesus’ sacrifice which he commands us is the New Testament version of the memory of the Passover. Jesus is establishing a new practice; he is fulfilling the Old Law.

Further, the verb “given” has a sacrificial ring to it. This ring is confirmed by the vicarious implication of “for others.” (Note: not “instead of others” (anti) but “for others” (huper). The same is true in Romans 5.)

Now, the OT sees blood as the life of the animal, Lev 17:11. Therefore, the shedding of blood is the offering of life, Lev 16:1–34, echoed in Hebrews 9:22. Moreover, the present imperative “Do this” is not only a command to repeat but also an allusion to sacrifice and memory in the OT, e.g., Lev 24:7; Num 5:15; Num 10:9–10; Ps 19:3; and cf, Heb 10:3. (The Hebrew zakar = remember/memory.)

The Scriptural imagery is one of sacrifice. Moreover, the context of the institution of this sacrament is one of anticipation of the coming crucifixion: “‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified.’” Jesus predicts his death, Mt 26:2. He is instituting this New Passover at a crucial moment. This is as it were his last will and testament.

Just as the first Passover meal was real, so were its ritual representations. Every year, a real immolation of real lambs – and real eating! Similarly, just as Jesus meal was real, so are its representations which he commands. Thus, the ritual he commands is real not merely symbolic, (see also LaGrange, p. 544).

But we must understand that the true Sacrifice of the Mass is a not a “repeat.” It is not “a second sacrifice”. What is repeated is only the ritual reenactment. But the Sacrifice is one and the same. In each reenactment, there is a re-presentation of the same sacrifice on Calvary. Its application now helps us who are spread all over the globe, centuries or yes millennia after Jesus, it helps us experience this sacrifice humanly for it is present now to us. It is thus “for the remission of sins” now. The whole sacrifice is offered up to the Father through the Son.

The separate consecrations of the bread and wine help signify this mystery. Just as in sacrifice, blood is separated from flesh, so the bread and wine are separately consecrated.

Catholic Understanding of the General Truths of the Eucharist (Part II)

The Eucharist is also the marriage of Heaven and Earth. John Paul II claims, with all the Catholic and Orthodox Tradition, that the Eucharist has a “cosmic” character. It is the marriage of heaven and earth. Creation is joined with its maker. For Jesus is God and man, one person. He touches the extremes of being. He is no angel, he is a man. And all men are physical. The very atoms have become the Son of God since they are elements of Jesus’ human substance. In the Eucharist, the very bread and wine is become the body and blood of Jesus. Hence, heaven once again touches earth, and earth heaven. And we the participants are caught up in this act. We witness the choirs of angels hymn the glory of God, “Holy, holy, holy….” All the while, we are the lowly Roman who begs, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” In the Eucharist, Jesus is espousing his Bride, the Church he instituted, leads, instructs, and feeds.

Of course, it takes the eyes of faith to know this marriage is occurring. We are not yet there. We pilgrims! That is to say, this marriage is under a veil. The Eucharist is the nuptial event, but darkly: “Now we see through a mirror, darkly, but then we shall see face to face.”

Jesus has yet to present his Bride pure and spotless to the Father, since her members fall daily at least into the lesser sins called “venial”. For this reason, we must never lose cite of the “eschatological thrust” of the sacrament. (Eschatology points to the ‘last things’; hence, an eschatological thrust is the movement towards eternity.) For precisely in its reality the Eucharist is but a “foretaste of the fullness of joy promised by Christ” (see John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, art. 18).

In uniting us with the members of the heavenly Church and bringing about a marvelous union with our Bridegroom, the Eucharist ushers us forward, so that we say with Paul, “Maranatha!” This exclamation, of course, leads us deeper into that conversion by which we are more closely united to Christ and by which we come to serve our neighbor more lovingly.

Catholic Understanding of the General Truths of the Eucharist (Part I)

On our journey from the slavery of Egypt (a slavery broken by Baptism) to the Promised Land (i.e., to heaven), the Eucharist nourishes us, enabling us to live on the toilsome road from slavery under sin to freedom under grace. The Eucharist is that “Bread from heaven” that nourishes us and sustains us as the old manna sustained the Israelites on their journey through the desert into the Promised Land. In the discourse on the Bread of Life, Jesus himself establishes the parallel between Passover and the Eucharist, for the manna is associated with the “passing” from Egypt to the Promised Land. It is the bread of our journey, the new manna.

In John 6, Jesus emphasizes that his body must be eaten and his blood must be drunk. The Greek word he uses (John 6:50, 51, 52, 53; so too, in Mt) for “eat” is φάγειν (phagein), to eat up or devour. The word is not to be taken “metaphorically,” because “to eat someone’s flesh” is to act with hostility towards that person, as we see in Psalm 27:2 (in Hebrew, to eat up my flesh; in the Septuagint: phagein tas sarkas mou). Zechariah 11:9 offers a similar case. The Aramaic tradition is that the title of the devil is, “Eater of Flesh.” How, then, could Jesus have mean this metaphorically?

So, Catholics believe that just as the Paschal sacrifice was really to be eaten, so too Christ is really to be eaten. We are to partake of him by eating his flesh and drinking his blood (1 Cor 10:16–18). By drinking from this cup and eating this food, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). This proclamation is a “remembrance” that has OT roots. It calls God’s attention to what he has done, urging that He apply His mercy concretely in the present. Obviously, when people in the OT (and now, when Catholics) try to get God to remember, they know full well that God is moving them to ask Him to remember. They know full well that He does not forget and that He does not change. However, God wants active involvement from us. That is why Scripture often uses anthropomorphic language when God is seeking human cooperation with his grace. He is seeking human involvement. One can think of God interacting with Adam in Gen 2, interacting with Abraham before condemning Sodom in Gen 18, and interacting with Moses in Ex 32.). What we are remembering, in the case of the Eucharist, is the real presence of Jesus, the substance of his flesh and soul, always united in person with his divinity.

Jesus even underscores the really physical character of Eucharistic eating. In John 6:54 he says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” For “he who eats,” John uses a participle meaning “to much on or gnaw” (ό τρώγων, from the verb τρώγειν). The verb was originally used with reference to animals chewing and grinding vegetables. Later, it was used for humans “chowing down” so to speak, as one might see in Matthew 24:38. John hereby records Jesus’ emphasis on the physicality of the Eucharist. (He even uses it again in what is the Johannine parallel to the Last Supper scene, John 13:18, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me,” from Psalm 41:9).

Now, we might wonder—certainly, any 8 to 10 year old wonders—why on earth we should “eat the flesh” of a man. Since the beginning of Christianity, pagans, Jews, and even some “disciples” of Christ have wondered this very thing: “‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” (John 6:60). The saying was so difficult that some left Jesus: “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66). Apologists rightly use this reaction to the great teacher Jesus as an argument that he meant what he said. He was not pulling back when he added that “My words are spirit and life”.

But back to the larger question: Why this rite? One rationale behind this strange rite is that by eating, as Paul says, we participate in Christ’s life. To “participate” is to take part in, to have a heritage with. Through this rite, we “imbibe” Jesus and have his life in us. Since we want this life in us—for Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—we drink his blood and eat his flesh. Jesus himself says, in John 6:56, “He who eat my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Through this physical “sharing,” Jesus brings us to commune with him more and more, sustaining us in our journey to the Father. To “abide” in Jesus is to live in that love by which the Father first loved us through Jesus.

So, in the end there is a Trinitarian dimension to this great mystery: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats (ό τρώγων) me will live because of me.” Jesus receives everything from the Father (John 3:35). “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself…” John 5:26. In turn, Jesus passes on everything, what he is—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—to us in the Eucharist

So we see the Trinitarian dimension: in receiving Jesus we are actually receiving one who receives from the Father all that he is; the one who is sent out to others. The Eucharist then increases our identification with Christ: we are those who receive everything as a gift from God; consequently, who are sent out to others, to serve all in the law of love. Jesus specifies this in John 15:9–13, where he urges us to abide in his love and the Father’s love by keeping the commandment of love.

What are the Criteria for Membership in the Catholic Church (Part II)

The next way a person is related to the People of God, is by being a catechumen, enrolled to be brought into the Catholic Church. (Once again, note that the People of God is the Catholic Church.) A catechumen has an explicit desire to enter the Church and is by that fact already “joined” to the Church (congiugitur).

The next way someone can be related to the Church is by being validly baptized though one is not Catholic. All such are “joined” to the Church (coniunctam) by their baptism. The grace that operates in them through the elements of sanctification and truth of their Christian community objectively orients them to the one true Church of Christ, the Catholic Church, that all may be one.

All others, in various ways (Jews, Muslims, theists, and even those who do not have explicit knowledge of God) are “related / ordered” to the Church (ordinatur). God is not remote from any of these, granting them sufficient grace for conversion and salvation. That is, God calls all of these to be converted to the one true faith and abandon everything false. This will entail leaving their religion behind, although not leaving behind the various truths which their religion espouses, such as belief in good moral principles, belief in one creator God, an appreciation of the goodness of being and of human dignity, etc. For Jesus has abrogated the Old Law and established the New Law in its place. Further, he is the final and definitive prophet, and every Christian recognizes as false anyone who proclaims to add to his message in the name of God.


Let us sum up. Only Catholics are members of Christ’s Church. These are either living or dead, but they are all members. For the Church is a visible society. Its boundaries are determined by visible, societal marks. And although these bespeak a certain minimal internal reality – namely, confession of the true faith and acceptance of hierarchical communion – these internal realities are adequately signified in one’s visible activity (“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty”). Thus, true membership does not await a judgment of the internal forum (“I confess for having sinned mortally…”). (However, a priest hearing a confession can inform someone that he has really renounced membership by renouncing one of these criteria of the visible society.) In short, the Church embraces sinners as her own. After all, only one disciple of Christ was without sin – Mary. The Church strives to recover all her own who have fallen into sin for Christ, thus snatching them from the Devil, just as she strives to reach out to those who are not her members, that they may avail themselves of the riches Christ as bestowed upon us through his Bride.

Others are related to the Church in various ways. Catechumens are joined by an explicit desire. Christians are joined by their baptism and, further, their desire to follow Christ wherever he goes. Non-Christians are, in various ways “ordered” to the one true Church, called to join her by following the good inspirations of grace which the Holy Spirit grants them, so that at length they may have life and achieve salvation.

At last we come to the surprising point I noted in Part I. Many canonists – those who study canon law – argue that valid baptism considered as such makes one a member of the Catholic Church. This membership, they add, is not forfeited until the baptized person undertakes some rational act incompatible with that membership. An obvious example of this would be a baptized person who repudiates all faith in God. Another would be a baptized person who repudiates the Catholic Church, or some dogma of Catholic faith, such as the Eucharist. The argument is that some who are baptized are unable to have such acts incompatible with membership. For instance, the infants. In practice, however, such persons are not dealt with as Catholics, since their parents do not intend this for them and since holding such persons to account as the Church does for Catholics (e.g., with regard to canon law, the conditions for valid marriage etc.) would be too complicated and too burdensome for the individual.

What are the Criteria for Membership in the Catholic Church? (Part I)

This week is week of Christian unity. Catholics pursue Christian unity in two ways, by lovingly presenting the truth of Jesus Christ and inviting non-Catholics to join the Church and by engaging in ecumenism. Ecumenism is the endeavor to achieve full Christian unity. Whereas the former effort towards unity regards individuals entering the Church, the latter regards whole communities and churches and even whole groups of churches. However, the end result in either case is full integration into the Catholic Church. As Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis redintegratio, teaches, both movements are in perfect harmony.

This week of Christian unity brings up a number of topics. The first I will cover is membership in the Catholic Church. In the past 50 years, Catholics have become confused over what constitutes “membership” in the Church. In order to address this issue, we must know our Tradition.

Key foundational teachings can be found in Leo XIII, Satis cognitum, a crucially important document on ecclesiology. I highly recommend one read this. One elemental teaching in this document is that the Church is a visible society. No one can escape this definitive description of the Church. Any description which denies that the Church is a visible society is false. A close inspection of the documents of Vatican II show that this definitive way of describing the Church is very much at play in the Council. Now, that the Church is indeed a visible society grounds the criteria for membership. A merely “supernatural” description of membership will not do.

The next key document is Pius XII, Mystici corporis. Again,  I highly recommend one read this. Pius XII specifies the three criteria for membership. 1) One must be baptized validly. The other sacraments of initiation are Eucharist and Confirmation. Baptism is the basis and this criterion is absolute. No non-baptized person is a member of the Church. The next two criteria are necessary for those who have the use of reason or who can act freely. (Infants are another story.) 2) One must confess the whole faith of the Church. (Normally, this is done implicitly by confession of a basic creed. Minimally, it entails that one not reject any dogma of the faith and that one confess something such as follows: one God exists, rewards those who serve him, sent his divine Son as a man to die for our sins, and joins us to himself through the work of the Holy Spirit. I will mention something at the end that is perhaps surprising regarding this criterion and the next.) 3) One must preserve hierarchical communion with the true Church, i.e., be subordinate to the pope and the bishops who are in communion with him.

In its foundational document Lumen gentium, art. 14, Vatican II indicates the same three requirements that Pius XII indicates. This is another crucial document to read. However, with Vatican II we also get a subtle set of descriptions of various kinds of relation one might have to the Catholic Church, which is the Church of Christ or The People of God. It is important we get this subtlety right, for it is frequently misinterpreted.

The word Vatican II uses for membership is incorporation. Obviously, all Catholics are “incorporated” (incorporantur) into the Catholic Church. Each meets the three requirements of membership. (We add the nuance that those who have also received the Eucharist and Confirmation are sealed in all three ways of initiation.) Now, some Catholics are in the state of grace, and some are in the state of sin. To distinguish these groups, Vatican II describes a Catholic who is in the state of grace as “fully incorporated” (plene incorporatur). The phrase is, unfortunately misleading. At least, it has mislead many good and no doubt well-intentioned interpreters.

The reason it is misleading is that it seems to modify membership, as though there might be “full” and a “partial” incorporation. But there can be no “degrees” of membership. The only way in which one can note “degrees” as it were is by way of the Sacraments of Initiation. Every baptized Catholic is a true member. However, those who have received the Eucharist and Confirmation are as I said sealed in all the ways of initiation.) But the key point is that one is either a Catholic or one is not. This is an absolute disjunct. However, if one is in the state of grace, one is a living member. If a Catholic is not in the state of grace, he is a dead member, ready, should he die in this state, to be cut off and cast into the eternal fire of hell (on this, read Jn 15). In order to express this difference between “living” and “non-living,” the Church describes the un-living Catholic as “incorporated” (incorporatur). Note that the Council never uses the expression “partially incorporated”. Little baptized Catholic babies are indeed incorporated members. Lumen gentium refers to Catholics in the state of sin as simply incorporated. Every good bishop and priest knows that a sinful Catholic is a Catholic still. (However, to live in the state of sin is to expose one’s faith to annihilation. One cannot maintain for long a ‘dead faith’. Either one will deny the faith or repent by accepting God’s sufficient grace.)

Does the Council describe anyone else as a member of the Church? No. No one else is a member. (Although, as I said, there is a surprising point to note below.) Thus, there should be no ambiguity on this point, though as I indicated, the initial expression “fully incorporated” may have caused some to miss the care with which the text was written. I will pick up the further modes in which one can be related to the Catholic Church in the next post.

Who is the Antichrist? (Part II)

Typology is a biblical phenomenon. For instance, Noah and the ark signify baptism. Again, Isaac signifies Christ. Again, the serpent Moses upheld signifies Christ on the Cross. Typology is the reference that one real biblical thing has for another. Abraham and Isaac were historically real, not just symbols. Yet, there were also symbols. This reference from one real biblical thing to another is Typology. Now, we can extend the concept of Typology and recognize that one real predicted future person or event has various partial fulfillments. I like to describe this as Typological Analogy. This is not my idea, however, I arrived at it by reading Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. In a volume entitled Discussions and Arguments, Newman speaks about the various kinds of fulfillment of the expectation of an Antichrist.

Newman points to several different partial fulfillments. In each of them, he contends, we observe some but not all aspects of the features of the real Antichrist to come.

Even before the time of Christ, there was as it were a precursor of Antichrist. Antiochus IV (215-164BC) emerged to persecute the Jews after many of their rank succumbed to Paganism (1 Macc 1:11f). Apostasy followed by an “Antichrist”. After the coming of Christ, the emperor Julian, also called The Apostate, persecuted the Church violently in his brief reign (361-363). Newman next mentions Mohammed, who followed on the infidelity of heretical Christians denying various truths about Jesus Christ. Newman closes with a consideration of the Reign of Terror and its demolition of the altars and its return to paganism.

The point of Newman’s reflections is to prepare his reader to read the signs of the times. These partial fulfillments might have seemed as genuine fulfillments in their times. However, time kept rolling. One must both take seriously the possibility that the end is at hand now and that the end might be a thousand years away. One must be sober – and alert! For the Devil is prowling around seeking someone to devour.

Let me close on one final observation that turns the situation to our own. Newman puzzled over that line in 2 Thess in which Paul speaks about a force restraining the man of sin. What is this force? It turns out the vast majority of fathers held that the force was none other than The Roman Empire. That the Roman Empire was somehow able to forestall the coming of Antichrist. Now, Newman thinks that we should not disagree with them! But you will laugh – Old Rome has been dead for 1500 years! Not so quick, says Newman. Old Rome might mean a number of things. Perhaps it means rule of law. Perhaps it means order, good, a society ordered to a true common good. Perhaps, we can expand on him, it means a society that conforms to natural law, especially in marriage and sexual ethics! Thus, perhaps its dissolution is the dissolution of the rule of law, of order, of society, of the common good, and of marriage and the family.

In Newman’s day, the seeds for all these terrible aspects of rot that cover our society from within – these seeds were already planted. They were planted with the liberal theses that, e.g., the state has legislative and judicial authority over the marriage bond and that the state need not be interested in religion, that it can be established apart from religion and without regard to ends higher than those that are political. These theses the Church condemned. The only legislative and judicial authority regarding the bond of marriage – natural or sacramental – is that of the Church. All other authorities are null and void in all that they determine about the bond. These authorities may, and indeed must, enact legislation concerning the civil effects of this bond. Let me close with a few citations.

First, Pope Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, art. 6: “As a consequence, the State, constituted as it is, is clearly bound to act up to the manifold and weighty duties linking it to God, by the public profession of religion. Nature and reason, which command every individual devoutly to worship God in holiness, because we belong to Him and must return to Him, since from Him we came, bind also the civil community by a like law. For, men living together in society are under the power of God no less than individuals are, and society, no less than individuals, owes gratitude to God who gave it being and maintains it and whose ever-bounteous goodness enriches it with countless blessings. Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice—not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion—it is a public crime to act as though there were no God. So, too, is it a sin for the State not to have care for religion as a something beyond its scope, or as of no practical benefit; or out of many forms of religion to adopt that one which chimes in with the fancy; for we are bound absolutely to worship God in that way which He has shown to be His will.”

Second, Newman. And in reading Newman, we must keep in mind how much more indifferent we are to religion in our society – nay, not indifferent but hostile.

Newman: “And is there no reason to fear that some such Apostasy is gradually preparing, gathering, hastening on in this very day? For is there not at this very time a special effort made almost all over the world, that is, every here and there, more or less in sight or out of sight, in this or that place, but most visibly or formidably in its most civilized and powerful parts, an effort to do without Religion? Is there not an opinion avowed and growing, that a nation has nothing to do with Religion; that it is merely a matter for each man’s own conscience? – which is all one with saying that we many let the Truth fail from the earth without trying to continue it in and on after our time” (p. 59).

Who is the Antichrist? (Part I)

We find a frightening text in 2 Thess 2:3–12: “Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God…. And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

Though frightening, this text is not meant to be terrifying, paralyzing. Nor is it meant to invite wild speculations. For St. Paul prefaces the text with this caution about ‘predictions’: “Now, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we be you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come” (2 Thess 2:1-2).

The text concerns the “End Times,” and the study of that falls under what theologians call “Eschatology”. There are two extremes one wants to avoid in Eschatology. Apocalypticism is the extreme of thinking that the texts are very easy to interpret and the future easy to predict. Rationalism is the extreme of thinking that the texts do not pertain to the future but are merely expressive of the ancient biblical writer’s “experience”. Catholic Eschatology avoids both extremes.

The topic I broach with St. Paul is the Antichrist. This text, some texts from the Gospels, some lines in the Epistles of St. John, and some texts in Daniel and in Revelation are the source for Christian reflection on this “Man of Sin,” commonly referred to in tradition as The Antichrist. Who is he? How will we know him?

The Antichrist is a human being, not a demon. Yet, it is believed that he will be perfectly possessed by Satan. Perfect possession does not necessarily look frightful – like the movie “The Exorcist.” Rather, the harmony of wills – the man’s will and Satan’s will – makes the result look

quite natural.

When will this man appear? Two signs are linked with his appearance. The first sign is that the Gospel shall have been preached to the ends of the earth. Second, there must be a large scale “falling away” from the faith. That is, there must first be a massive apostasy in the Church. They will have itching ears, not wanting to hear the solid truth of faith. Rather, they will run after pseudo teachers who deny what the Apostles handed on. After many fall away from the truth of the faith, then this man will appear.

He will be associated with the Temple. Which Temple? Theologians wrestled with this and achieved a consensus: Not the Temple of the Church but the Temple of Judaism. However, as Daniel relates, this man will not be religious. He will not recognize the God of his fathers. Rather, he will put himself forth as God. Hence, he will be religious only in appearance. At some point, he will work wonders. He will not work miracles in the proper sense of the term. Rather, he will perform wonders by magic. (A miracle is by definition a work of God who controls nature. A wonder is something inexplicable and astounding. The latter can be accomplished by demons, who can wield the natural forces of the world to achieve startling results – when permitted by God.) God will allow this wonder working so that those who love a lie and hate truth will be deceived by this false prophet. Being deceived they will follow him. The Antichrist will persecute the true religion mercilessly. The goal of Antichrist will be the total destruction of the one true religion that Christ inaugurated at his first coming. Yet, as God has promised, this Antichrist, though he achieve many victories in battle, will ultimately be defeated. God will not abandon his Church, but she shall prevail even against the jaws of hell.

Now, here’s a difficulty. If the text of St. Paul is really about the future, then how can it mean anything to those who do not exist in the End Times? The answer to this lies in what can be called Typological Analogy or, better, Analogical Typology. I shall take this topic up next.

The Catholic Church has the “Fullness of Truth.” What Does this Mean?

This article, as many of my posts, is directed to clarifying things for Catholics rather than defending or explaining them as to a non-Catholic audience. (I’ll get a page for that task in the coming months.)

In the past fifty years, the Church has, when describing her unique character among Christian groups, described herself as entrusted with “the fulness of truth.” What does this expression mean, what does it not mean, and is it the full truth?

It should be noted, by way of beginning, that the expression regards a claim about what is the case objectively. It does not regard an evaluation about the subjective condition of any individual.

What the expression obviously does not mean is that the Catholic Church has all knowledge. It would be absurd to suggest that she did. She is given no privilege to know, for instance, quantum mechanics or gravitational attraction or economical intricacies. She is given competence only the so-called “Deposit of Faith” and those matters necessarily connected with it. Now, the “Deposit of Faith” is what God reveals.

So, what the expression means is that God has entrusted to the Catholic Church all Revealed Truth, i.e., faith’s knowledge of every truth supernaturally revealed for our salvation. Now, if some Christian church or community has broken away from the Catholic Church, it of course takes with it knowledge of many of these revealed truths. However, it cannot possibly take with it all truths. (It must at least reject one key truth. I shall return to that in a moment.) Thus, different Christian churches and communities enjoy, to different degrees, a share in that fulness. The phrase “fulness of truth” in this sense sets the Catholic Church off from other Christian churches, without denying but implicitly affirming that they enjoy some share in that fulness.

Finally, is the expression sufficient? It is not. That is, it does not of itself convey the fulness of truth regarding this fulness. Let me explain.

The phrase “fulness of truth” indicates Revealed Truth as a set of truths. It thus implies that various groups can have various degrees of this fulness. In this respect, the phrase is very helpful ecumenically. For it allows the Catholic Church to affirm a truth, namely, that non-Catholic churches have various shares in this fulness.

However, Revelation is not divinely deposited as a simple “set” of truths to whatever group will accept it. Rather, it is entrusted to a guardian. That is, in bestowing revelation on his disciples, Jesus did not just scatter a bunch of truths, hoping that one of his followers might gather them all together. Rather, during his earthly ministry he immediately and directly constituted a Church to guard the deposit in its integrity. But he constituted only one Church (unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam). This Church he constituted as a visible hierarchical society, whose hierarchical character is of divine right and not of human invention. (Nor, we should add, can any authority whatsoever alter this hierarchical structure, which consists in the bishops in communion with the pope.) This Church he deputed to be the bearer of the way of life he inaugurated, the religion he established.

Now, in order to proclaim this truth – that Christ established the Catholic Church to bear his religion – there is need for another phrase. That phrase is one true religion. The Catholic Church not only has the fulness of revelation but is the one true religion.

Now, this phrase “one true religion” cuts a little deeper than the phrase “fulness of truth”. For, once again, “fulness of truth” indicates the Deposit of Faith as a kind of “set of truths” that different groups might appreciate to different degrees. (The scholastics would call this an expression taken from a “material consideration”. We might liken this somewhat to a list of ingredients. The ingredients don’t give the unity of the whole – the form does that – but they are elemental in that whole. There is so much sugar, so much flour, etc., in the cake.)

But the phrase “one true religion” indicates something deeper, namely, that there is one authority which is to bear responsibility for the one religion Jesus established. (The scholastics would call this an expression taken from a “formal consideration”. Such a consideration looks at the thing as a whole. For instance, what is a “cake”; where is “the cake”? You don’t really have a cake unless you have not only all the ingredients but the right mixture baked at the right temperature for the right time. The net result is the real cake.) Now, here’s the rub: If there is only one such authority, only one Church actually established by Christ, then all other claims to be the Church established by Christ are false. All other religions are invalid. All other claimants to the authority Christ gave his Church are invalid.

Thus, all religions but the Catholic religion are, formally considered, false. They may have many “elements of truth” in them, but they do not bear the deputation of God. All their “elements of truth and sanctification” are calling out not merely for “more truths”. They are calling out for that. But more importantly, they are calling out for that final wholeness of being the true Church deputed by Christ that is either present or not present. This final wholeness is not merely one more truth but – as one more ingredient – but an alteration of form! It is integration into the Catholic Church. Without this integration, the search for the fulness is painstaking and endless. With this integration, that fulness is enjoyed at once, and in its proper home.

Now, there is a key implication for ecumenism with these considerations. The Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to ecumenism – the endeavor to achieve full and visible unity among all Christian churches and communities. Regarding the phrase “fulness of truth,” the Catholic Church strives that other churches might enjoy each element of truth which she enjoys. In this regard, she seeks that these others as it were become like her. But with regard to the phrase “one true religion,” the Catholic Church cannot but strive to integrate into her own structure any Christian community or church which is non-Catholic.

Thus, there is need for both phrases. The first – “fulness of truth” – allows the nuance of different degrees of participation in the set of truths divinely revealed. The second – “one true religion” – allows one to state the crucial truth of integrity, of existence as the one true Church deputed by Christ to worship God. Note that this expression has not entirely disappeared in the last fifty years. (See Dignitatis humanae, art. 1.) However, it has unfortunately been lost to sight. I say unfortunately, because failure to convey this is failure to teach the fulness of truth.

What is “Pelagian Ecumenism”?

Pelagian Ecumenism is the term I use to describe certain mistaken attempts at ecumenism. Now, the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to ecumenism – the endeavor to achieve full and visible unity among all Christian communities.

But one mistakes this task if one thinks that it is in “tension” with the rigors of Catholicism. A Catholic is not ecumenical who wishes to shed or alter even the least dogma or divinely instituted sacrament, etc. Sometimes, mistaken zeal in pursuit of Christian unity may tempt someone to wish to shed or alter a dogma or sacrament. But usually the temptation is subtler.

There can be a temptation not to profess the fulness of truth. One can be tempted, seemingly out of love for one’s brother, not to state the full truth when it ought to be stated. (Of course, there are times when that fulness cannot be stated. One must use discretion at all times. This goes without saying.) I am referring, however, to a kind of collective and systematic tendency to omit one or more of the “hard truths”. One example might be our reticence in presenting and discussing the dogma that “outside the Catholic Church, there is no salvation.” This is a very hard truth. And yes, this truth admits of a subtle reading. But that subtlety does not take away the bite in the dogma. The bite is there – and all non-Catholics know it is there. (Or at least, they used to.) But when Catholics try to cover up a truth such as this, or, before a secular audience, the existence of hell and of the devil, etc., why do they do so? The thought may be that if we present only the easier truths, then someone will have an easier time of converting, either from Protestantism or secularism or Orthodoxy. (What! – Are we then going to spring all the ‘bad news’ on someone afterwards?) Or perhaps worse: Maybe we are embarrassed by the teaching.

In any case, what is going on is Pelagian Ecumenism. One is covering some part of the light of faith with a bushel. One is hiding the light under a bed. But the light should shine forth. It is meant for those God loves. It is meant for the very brother whom we want to love. If we hide its light, perhaps our brother will be judged less harshly than we, who are withholding from him what God has given.

Why is this mistaken kind of ecumenism “Pelagian”? Pelagianism is a heresy according to which I can achieve the divine result without God’s help. For instance, I can achieve salvation without God’s help. And we must say more. Pelagianism denies that God is the primary cause of my salvation. Finally, we must say one last thing. Pelagianism denies that God must take the first initiative: That all my cooperation – which for all that is real – is itself dependent on God’s initiative and primary causality. This brand of ecumenism finds the goal of ecumenism – return of non-Catholic churches and communities to the one true fold – too difficult to bear. Therefore, it despairs and attempts to set the bar lower.

What is the solution to this lack of faith – this Pelagian Ecumenism? The solution is extremism. Being extreme in faith, hope, and love. We must be extremists in our hearts. For one cannot trust God too much. He has the power and the will to achieve the result. He will not achieve it through a falsification of the goal. Consequently, we must not soften faith with a supposed love. We must be zealous for all three theological virtues. Then our brother will see this and respect us. We let him know the truth, at the right time, in the right way. Then we let God and him work it out. We don’t impose. Nor do we fail to disclose!

What is Small “o” orthodoxy? And What is it Not?

It may sound odd to say, but not all orthodox statements are true. Some are false!

This is obvious if we think about it. For there are some issues on which the Church has not yet infallibly taught. And about those issues theologians debate. If two theologians have contradictory views on a matter the Church has not definitively settled, then each opinion is “orthodox,” yet both opinions cannot be true.

Take the dispute that existed before the Church defined Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The Thomists (followers of St. Thomas Aquinas’s method and principles) argued that Mary could not have been immaculately conceived, since if she were she would not have needed t be redeemed by Christ. But on all counts, she was redeemed by Christ. The Scotists (followers of Duns Scotus’s method and principles) argued that Mary was redeemed in the most perfect way, by being immaculately conceived. In fact, the Thomists were wrong. However, before the Church infallibly pronounced on the topic (mid 19th century), the Church respected the Thomists with the difficulties they perceived regarding this issue. Thus, the Thomists were not condemned; they were “orthodox” but wrong.

These observations have important ramifications for the present. Many people think that if a theologian is “orthodox” that all is well with his views. This is not necessarily the case. Some orthodox opinions are false.

What, then is orthodoxy? Well, the Church teaches both positively and negatively; she affirms some truths and rejects some errors. Hence, it would be helpful to consider orthodoxy under two aspects. The first aspect is giving the requisite assent to Magisterial teachings according to their proper level of authority. We could call this positive orthodoxy. The second aspect is rejecting those errors condemned by the Magisterium according to the level of authority with which the condemnations are issued. We could call this negative orthodoxy. So, the full meaning of orthodoxy is both positive and negative.

Now, orthodoxy thus described is a necessary condition for Catholic theology. Theology is a reflection on the faith by the faith. Thus, theology presupposes faith. Since faith comes from above and is the acceptance of the revelation which God commends to the Church, the theological project cannot get off the ground unless all these starting points – the Church, revelation, faith – are presupposed / set in place.

Nevertheless, orthodoxy is by no means a sufficient condition for good theology. Even a fully orthodox theologian might not be a good theologian. What is needed is sound method, prayerful contemplation, solid principles, learning in the Tradition, philosophical acumen, accurate argumentation, and fruitful analogical insight.