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The Book of Revelation: A Discussion About Interpretation

The Book of Revelation is not given to easy interpretation. It cannot be deciphered in a literal or fundamentalist manner that seeks to make quick and easy contemporary correlation. We have to appreciate it as a particular form of literature that utilizes symbolic and allegorical phraseology. Similar such writings of this genre appear in Daniel, Zechariah, and Ezekiel. While many will interpret it strictly in terms of future events, it actually has a great deal to say about the crisis in the early Church and her future hope.

11:7 – “And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit will make war upon them and conquer them and kill them, . . . ”

This beast was understood to be the antichrist, the one who symbolizes evil in his own person, the Roman emperor, Nero. Christians witnessed to their faith by shedding their blood. (See Rev. 13:1-8; 17:8).

11:8 – “ . . . and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which is allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.”

While it is geographically true that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, this is not the thrust of the apocalyptic text here. Rather, the emphasis is upon the figurative Jerusalem that repudiates God and his witnesses. This is clearly the new “Babylon”, another code word for pagan Rome. See chapters 16 through 18. (Anti-Catholics go so far as to make the leap in logic that the beast and his city are not the pagan emperor and Rome but rather the pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Such a view violates the meaning of the text and defames the sacrifice of early Catholic Christians.) “Sodom” and “Egypt” are symbols for immorality (cf. Isaiah 1:10) and for the oppression of the people of God (cf. Exodus 1:11-14). The authority of pagan Rome crucified Christ through its emissaries. Christ is being crucified anew in his members. It is an early holocaust of the Christian believers at the hands of a bloodthirsty pagan Rome.

The Book of Revelation is composed to deal with a specific crisis. Believers of Christ are dying in droves and the inspired author is urging the Christian community not to abandon hope or to betray the Lord. Jesus’ promise comes to mind: “ . . . and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Catholic Christians are reminded that God has not abandoned them.

Hope this breakdown helps, although it hardly exhausts the layers of meaning here.

**********          **********          **********

GIO: I don’t know. When Cardinal Ratzinger wrote about the explanation of Fatima in 2000 upon the revelation of the third secret, he compared the Angel with the fiery sword in Revelation to the Angel that the children saw at Fatima, saying something like “the risk of judgment looms over us.”

ARMANDO: Shalom! Fr. Joe, I am a devout Catholic and I’m very curious about the Catholic interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Father, can you tell me, who is the second beast? Who is this beast with a name equivalent to 666? I believe in the messages of Our Lady of Fatima. Actually, I’m praying the Rosary four times a day since I started working here in Saudi Arabia. I hope for your kind reply to these questions because I categorically don’t believe other interpretations of the Bible. I believe in the Catholic view alone, because it is the only true Church founded by Christ with its visible Head as St. Peter and His successors. May the God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob richly bless us all always! Thank you very much Father. I will include you in my prayers.

FATHER JOE: I would recommend a faithful Catholic commentary and a Catholic Bible with good footnotes. Throughout history there have been many antichrists. It refers to any and all who reject and oppose Christ and his Church. The term also signifies a false Christ or counterfeit messiah. This is not to deny the possibility of a singular apocalyptic antichrist; however, many authorities suggest that this pointed to the Emperor Nero or possibly another tyrant of pagan Rome who persecuted the early Church.

ARMANDO: May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob richly bless all always! Father Joe, thank you very much! I learned just yesterday night, from Brother Michael of EWTN about the intimate relation of the Book of Revelation to the Holy Catholic Mass. It enlightened my heart and mind so much and it strengthened my Catholic faith even more. You know Father, I’m actually a Catholic Charismatic and I’ve been serving the Lord since I was 10 years old through our humble St. Joseph Chapel in Ibabao, Cuenca, Batangas, Philippines. I’ve been a choir guitarist up to the present here in the Muslim country of Saudi Arabia. We are without a Church and must worship in secret. Despite this situation, my friends and I, Filipinos and an Indian, started a small Prayer Group. We pray the Holy Rosary, singing praise and worship songs. I lead a Catholic Bible Study. You know, Father, we are very happy because there are many Catholics who turned away from our Church but now turning back again because of Catholic Life in the Spirit Seminar or CLSS. Two more questions Father: when will the 1000 years of peace happen and is Satan already loosed? Mama Mary, pray for us.

FATHER JOE: You are from the Philippines! My brother married a Filipina a few years ago and traveled to Manila to see her family. I have many Filipinos in my parish here in Maryland, USA. Many are far better educated. You can ask questions of faith and I will do my best to answer. But, please understand, I am quite fallible. The Catholic Church does not teach a millennium rule. Rather, we believe that when Jesus comes he will consummate all things to himself. As for when the second coming will happen, we cannot know for sure, despite various signs. Look at Matthew 24:36. Our Lord tells us that “no one but the Father knows the day and the hour.” As for Satan, look around the world today. He is still very much around and prowling about for souls to devour. Trust Jesus and Mary. Invoke the special aid of St. Michael the Archangel. May God bless you!

ARMANDO: Shalom again, Fr. Joe. Why is it that the Catholic Church does not teach a millennium rule since it is written in Revelation? Am I right that maybe it’s not a literal 1000 years of peace? And what are those seven plaques w/c the 7 angels brought?

FATHER JOE:

The notion of an earthly kingdom ruled directly by the Messiah finds its roots in the Jewish aspirations of a military and political leader. This imagery is picked up by the Scriptures but the time of Christ’s rule is spiritual and found in the Catholic Church and her sacraments. The new Zion or Jerusalem is, similarly, not the political state of modern Israel but the Church. Some authorities claim that a false Messiah or Christ will seek to establish an early kingdom. Here we are talking, not about Christ but about the anti-Christ. It is said that he would persecute the Church.

There are seven plagues preceding the destruction of Babylon. The imagery is borrowed from the plagues of Egypt.

[1] Men and beasts are smitten with ulcers (Exodus 9:9-10).

[2] & [3] The seas and rivers become blood (Exodus 7:17-21).

[4] The sun burns men to death.

[5] The throne of the beast causes great darkness (Exodus 10:11-29).

[6] The waters of the Euphrates are dried up and form a passage for the kings of the East (Exodus 14).

[7] Storm and earthquake destroy Babylon.

The Catholic Church gives no literal or fundamentalist interpretation to these plagues. It is enough that there will be both man-made and natural calamities.

Pope John Paul II (February 2003) identified seven deadly plagues that threaten the future of humanity:

[1] an insidious terrorism capable of striking at anytime and anywhere;
[2] the unresolved problem of the Middle East with the Holy Land and Iraq;
[3] the turmoil disrupting South America, particularly Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela;
[4] the conflicts preventing numerous African countries from focusing on their development;
[5] the diseases spreading contagion and death;
[6] the grave problem of famine, especially in Africa;
[7] the irresponsible behavior contributing to the depletion of the planet’s resources.

ARMANDO: Thanks again, little by little, the Book of Revelation is getting clearer to me. Is the “holy city Jerusalem” in Rev. 21: 10-21, the same as the New Jerusalem which symbolizes the Church? Why does it have walls, gates, foundation stones, etc?

FATHER JOE: The heavenly Jerusalem is paradise. The New Jerusalem is the kingdom breaking into the world through the Church. The Church is an extension of the Church in glory.

CATHOLIC GIRL:

Gio, during the Fatima apparitions, Our Lady gave the children a horrific vision of hell. They said that so many souls were going there so fast it was like snowflakes falling. She also told them that one of their school mates – a child – would be “in purgatory until the end of the time.” Without the Mercy of God, no one would be saved but his sword is a mighty sword of justice.

As far as Revelations, I feel that the Protestant “Tim Lehaye” books (and movies) have spread heresy into Catholic beliefs. Here in the south, it is the most argued point in adult Bible study. It is another aspect of too little knowledge of the faith. In a class I was in, where a Nun from the Seminary literally went through chapter by chapter, people walked out – and many called the Chancery swearing that SHE was the heretic. Most Catholics simply do not understand that we are not literalists as far as the Bible goes.

I often wonder why Catholics do not have more organized Bible Study (with nuns or priests as a guide). I think a lot of eyes would be opened.

ARMANDO: Father, does our Church teaches about rapture? I do not hear any priest teaching about this matter. And what is Armageddon?

FATHER JOE: The Church believes that Christ will consummate the world to himself. Rapture as understood by certain Protestants and in the LEFT BEHIND books is not part of Catholic teaching. As for the conflict against the anti-Christ, we are already in the thick of it. The Church does not insist upon a literal final battle in the Middle East. Apocalyptic literature cannot be read like a history book.

CHARLIE: It is true that the book of Revelation is complicated. I can’t stop thinking though how Revelation 17 and how the Woman fits the description of the Catholic church.

FATHER JOE: Mary and the Church is associated with this woman (with child). However, the Church is NOT the harlot or “whore of Babylon.” Be careful not to associate the Church with the anti-Christ. There have always been grave sinners in the Church; but the Church is holy because Christ is holy.

CHARLIE: It seems to me that the church is trying very hard NOT to tell us the REAL meaning of Revelation.

FATHER JOE: Give me an instance. Why is it that you, as a Catholic, would put your personal interpretation of Scripture over that of the Magisterium? If you believe that the Church is evil, why are you still a Catholic. Sorry, this does not wash! You are buying into all the conspiracy theory nonsense.

CHARLIE: With the church being around for so long and with all the scholars in the church, they could be more specific like all the other churches when it comes to interpreting Revelation.

FATHER JOE: How is the Church not specific? Apocalyptic language is inherently difficult, given our proximity in time and place from the source. Other churches, and I can just imagine what fundamentalist authorities to which you refer, make up or fictionalize their commentary. The Catholic Church is grounded on truth.

CHARLIE: I almost feel like they are hiding something.

FATHER JOE: Almost? Please, stop playing games. What have you read from Catholic sources about the Book of Revelation that makes you say this? What commentaries? What Church documents? You have cited nothing. You are imagining things. Be careful that you do not deliberately slam the Church.

CHARLIE: We need to understand more and get more input from the church on Revelation because we don’t want to fall into a trap in the end times.

FATHER JOE: [At this point it became clear that Charlie was a ringer or poser. He may have been Catholic but now he was something else. Some anti-Catholics use such deception to get under the Catholic defenses. They may cite catholic sources, but they are not really interested in the truth or discussion. They come to slam the Church and to steal believers.] Then get it already. What are you waiting for? The problem is you, not the Church. Here are a few books you might find useful. Also, look at the footnotes in a Catholic Bible.

The Book of Revelation: A Catholic Interpretation of the Apocalypse by John Tickle.

Apocalypse: A Catholic Perspective on the Book of Revelation by Stephen C. Doyle.

New Jerome Biblical Commentary (3rd Edition) by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy.

CHARLIE: Satan is a deceiver and the father of lies and we need to have a CLEAR picture of things when it comes to prophecy. Now more than ever….with the Prophecy of Saint Malachy and his clear prophecies of the popes…..which by the way are true and we see that even with his prediction of Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II. We see clearly that we need more information on the Book of Revelation.

FATHER JOE: The prophesies of St. Malachy belong to private revelation only and are not doctrinal or required for belief. It also appears that they do not belong to St. Malachy but to some anonymous source.

CHARLIE: It says in Revelation 17 that John was amazed by what he saw and this would clearly state to me that he was AMAZED by this vision because perhaps he saw that the church which Saint Peter started was in the end corrupted and polluted by an evil power.

FATHER JOE: Jesus promised that his Church would endure until his consummation of the world.

CHARLIE: I see this clearly as the last Pope predicted by Saint Malachy which he said would lead the church to destruction. Why are none talking about this?

FATHER JOE: It is because the prophesies are not reliable. They are interesting but I place no confidence in them.

CHARLIE: You can’t wait until it happens and have people led astray to the tricks of Satan. I know in my heart the church MUST know things, but chooses to keep people in the dark….because the latter days the church would be led by forces of darkness. It clearly states this in Revelation. “Woman” in prophecy means CHURCH.

FATHER JOE: All you need is to be faithful. Worrying about such things is not from God.

JOHN: I came to this partial understanding around 1980. The two horned goat is USA and Russia. The image of the beast is the Islamic republic of Iran.

FATHER JOE: Such connections are only conjecture. I tend to give the apocalypse a historical understanding. The beast is Nero and the old pagan Roman Empire. Apostate Christians might be the other beast. Anyone who opposes Christ and his Church is an antichrist.

JOHN:

Yes, such connections are only conjecture. Some conjectures are more compelling than others. Consider, the two horned ram and angry beast allegory is first found in Daniel (well before the first century). What is this fire from heaven, but the bombs of two nuclear super powers. The foreign policy slogan of current Iran is “Neither east nor west.” Thank you for your courage, which I know can only come from our lord, Jesus Christ.

I sent the above comments (in fuller form) to Pope John Paul II in the Spring of 1980. The response received was a letter from the secretary of state of the Vatican (July 1980). Here is the text: “The Holy Father has seen the kind letter sent to him, and has asked that I express his thanks, and convey his blessing.”

CHRIS: I think an inspired interpretation of Apocalypse is Steven Paul’s Apocalypse: Letter by Letter. Very sick with cancer during the penning of his book, this staunch Catholic had an intimate understanding of Revelation and just about managed to get all his knowledge on paper before his death. I can’t recommend it enough for any Catholic who wants a clear understanding of Revelation.

FATHER JOE: I asked around about Steven Paul’s book and found that not everyone is excited about it. One critic even remarked that there are a number of factual mistakes and interpretations which are contrary to Catholic tradition. A book that I would recommend is Apocalypse: A Catholic Perspective on the Book of Revelation by Fr. Stephen Doyle.

CHRIS: Unfortunately, Steven isn’t around to answer any of his critics. Given that he was a committed Catholic I’m surprised to hear there are elements of his book which are contrary to Catholic Tradition. Do you have an example from his book that I can check out?

JOHN:

It’s my understanding that those who hold anti-Catholic interpretations use the “seven hill” phrase to justify their view.

Must the singular anti-Christ be present for the present age to end? I had thought that Khomeini was such. When popes die their personnel letters are to be burned. When Khomeini died I burned my written interpretations of Revelations. Later, I remembered it was written (by me): “the image to the beast is the beast itself, that is, the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

FATHER JOE: Deciphering possible prophecies of the eschaton and the beast is no easy business. Is there ever a singular anti-Christ? During WWII and afterwards there were many contenders. What I can tell you is that there is ONE Christ. Put your emphasis there and on your relationship with him.

JOHN: Jesus was beaten, scared, and killed. His justice is not, and will not be blind. May he grant us the mercy, grace, and courage to help the needy when we see him. I believe you, Father Joe, have the best job this world has to offer. Thank you for your courage!

NEIL: Very interesting dialogue. I’m a 2010 convert to Catholicism from practically every Protestant denomination out there. I’m quite interested in Revelation and appreciate some of the questions here. Pertaining to Revelation 17, I’ve heard the reference to the Vatican before which never made much sense. An interpretation of the new Babylon being America and the new city being New York, actually registered with me. Are you saying Father Joe that this is referring to the fallen Roman Empire instead? Glory to God!

FATHER JOE: The reference was to pagan Rome. Further connections to present-day earthly cities and nations are merely speculation.

DOLORES:

Dear Father Joe, I am currently involved in a Bible study entitled “Journey through Revelation: Apocalyptic Hope for Today,” written for Presbyterian USA women. I came across your web site while googling for a Catholic interpretation of Rev.12.

I was pleased to read all the queries and responses on the subject of Revelation. The information pretty much jibes with this study and other sources I have read. I was particularly interested in how the Catholic Church interpreted “the Woman” in Chapt.12. I had always thought she was the Virgin Mary, and you did state that in one of your responses. Most of my sources say the woman represents the Church or people of God or Israel. You also mentioned this in the same response.

We are studying Revelation, taking into consideration the time in which it was written, the type of literature that would have been familiar to the people John was writing to, the terrible persecution the early Christians were undergoing— a book of hope rather than a book of prophecy. I’m learning a lot and looking forward to the rest of the study.

I’m glad I found your website. If you have anything more to say about Mary as the woman in Chapter 12, I would be very interested to have the Church’s view. Thank you.

JOHN: I’m so glad Jesus has promised his earthly return and kingdom. The prophetic message ends with this realization. I don’t really care who lines up as the bad guys of prophesy, but that his will is fulfilled. The epistle of Barnabas and Paul’s writings seem to indicate there will be a singular anti-Christ at the end times. The hope of this Christian is to understand and live with his/her God. I am a sinner.

CHRIS: Excerpt from Steven Paul’s interpretation of Apocalypse, p.171, may be relevant to what is currently going on in North Africa/Middle East: “It has already been shown, however, that the Beast will rise from that formerly Roman territory designated as ‘the sea’; therefore, the Beast will initially seize about 60% of the ‘sea,’ not just 30% by violence, because the ‘sea’ comprises North Africa and the Middle East, i.e., about half of all that was once the Roman Empire. Of the ‘sea’s’ two main regions, the Asian is the larger and richer in oil: it includes Turkey and the small countries immediately south of the Caucasus Mountains—Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine. In order to seize that initial 60% of the ‘sea,’ the Beast or ‘little horn’ must take possession of some part of the Asian region along with all of the African, or he will simply take all of the Asian, or he will take much of the Asian and part of the African, such as Egypt and Libya.”

FATHER JOE: I suspect that like many before him, Steven Paul’s interpretation will be proven false. Such preoccupations detract from the true antichrists that surround us and who may even share our homes. All who are spiritually dead in mortal sin are opposed to our Lord.

DEBRA: Father, I am a revert. I am reading John’s Revelation. I have read these threads. Yours is a voice of reason and common sense. Thanks be to God for that. Please pray for me.

NEIL: Father Joe, what do you make of the locusts in Chapter 9? I’ve heard opinions that they are attack helicopters. Also, what are the Four Living Creatures mentioned in Ezekiel and Revelation? God Bless!

FATHER JOE: They might only be a blight of locusts.

JOHN: It puzzles me that Catholics, and Christians as a whole, argue over facts. For example, what does it matter weather Mary was taken up alive, bodily, or died and rose the usual way. Some things don’t affect the heart, one way or another. While it doesn’t hurt to put out a heartfelt opinion, to state it as fact, though it’s objectively non-provable, does no one good. Jesus’ resurrection is provable by its result.

FATHER JOE: Catholic Christianity treasures both faith and reason. That is why the facts about things are important and worth the appropriate discussion. Looking at your example, you seem to miss the whole point of Mary’s Assumption. Catholic doctrine is very clear: at the end of Mary’s earthly life, she remained incorrupt and was taken body and soul into heaven. The issue as to whether she “fell asleep” or “died” is not a contentious one for the Magisterium as both perspectives are acknowledged. What actually is death if one is not consumed by the grave, anyway? Her corporeal assumption is a critical point because it resonates with Christ’s resurrection and ascension. She is seen as the first fruits, or evidence that our Lord would share his life and victory with others. Mary is a figure for the Church. (It is this connection we find in the Book of Revelation.) We are also promised a share in eternal life and the restoration of our bodies and souls. This honor is granted her because of her unique role in the history of salvation. Her assumption flows from her cooperation with Christ’s redemptive work as the Mother of God and the Immaculate Conception. Our sentiments about Mary are not merely matters of the heart, but declared dogmas of the Catholic Christian faith.

Bishop Kenneth Untener on Women Priests

The bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, died in 2004. It is not my intention to speak ill of the dead, but I still feel compelled to give a strong critique of his argument in favor of women priests. Giving the appearance of orthodoxy, he maintained the usage of “in persona Christi,” while evacuating it of authentic meaning. His claim of a shift in its understanding “since the 1940′s” is not substantiated since it was already well developed in the scholastic tradition. Our deepening appreciation of it has been a legitimate instance of the operation of the universal ordinary Magisterium under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As such it takes upon itself a level of certitude, dare I say infallibility, especially in regards to its five citations in the Vatican II documents. Conciliar teachings do not have to be statistically verified. The bishop, trying to find any loophole for women priests ignored this point.

For those unfamiliar, let me summarize his views. He caricatured, and I believe falsely, the teaching as mere “impersonation,” no different from an actor pretending to be someone else in a contemporary drama. Opposed to St. Jerome’s supposedly “false translation” of the Greek (and here I will transliterate) “en prosopo Christou” (2 Corinthians 2:10) as “in persona Christi,” the bishop claimed it really meant “in the presence of Christ” or “before (the face of) Christ.” If the minister only impersonates Christ, and is not actually present in the priest, then his view would open the door to women priests.

Although these renditions of the word “prosopon” have some validity, one cannot so carelessly dismiss the Vulgate Latin Bible. It remains the official ecclesial translation. Further, the terminology “prosopon” was being stretched or advanced in meaning from its routine usage in Greek drama.

In contrast, various critics will avow that the “persona” manifested is the divine Second Person of the Blessed Trinity but disavow his male-differentiated humanity. However, Christ’s identity can never be split. Thus, while Bishop Untener would actually evacuate any ontological reality of Christ’s presence at the altar, these other critics would divide and subtract from it.

Ecumenically, Anglo-Catholics and Orthodox churches concur with us, even if they might use different terminology. For Eastern Christians, the priest is considered “an icon of Christ.” It must be remembered that icons are considered more than simple images. They are venerated as somehow holding God’s presence in them. The priesthood takes this iconic identification still further. To say that a priest acts as Christ’s icon means that we can experience the undivided person of Christ in him. To make this identification even more complete, the constitutive element of a priest’s maleness may be supplemented by such accidentals as vestments and a beard.

Bishop Untener may be correct in that the Mass is a drama; but, the priest is more than an actor. Every Mass is Christ’s as the principal celebrant. Unless he is present in the person of the priest, this assertion becomes nonsense. The late bishop minimized the meaning of the “prosopon” or mask and others ignore the Greek source for this idea entirely. An actor in ancient Greek theater would hold up a “prosopon” or face to disguise his countenance. More than simply “impersonating” the character as in modern drama, the face he held allowed him to take unto himself a new, even if pseudo-real, identity. These transformations became so thorough, that many of the ancients considered acting to be a vocation.

In the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries, AD, over the identity of Jesus, “prosopon” was understood as an external concrete apparition, the appearance of the “physis.” The “physis” was a set of characteristics or properties, in other words, that which made up the nature of a thing. However, even in this context, the word “prosopon” was strengthened by the term “hypostasis.” [This was because some feared what critics have done regarding the priesthood, dividing or subtracting from Christ.] This last word was closely connected with the term “persona” in the West. The word “person” signified the firm ground from out of which an existing thing took its stand and developed. [It is the person of Christ who stands and renders sacrifice in front of our altars. The priest does not pretend to be Christ. At the Sacrifice of the Mass, he is the undivided Christ.]

The bishop wrote, “In the early centuries we do not see this phrase used to describe the role of the ordained priest.” Why is this? The answer is simple. The Church comes to a further understanding of herself and of her doctrinal treasury through conflict. Christ’s identification with the minister in the liturgy was not at issue. For that matter, even when surrounded by pagan priestesses and heretical ones, the consensus of the Church was so sure that no defense of the male priesthood was thought necessary.

Through all the rhetoric, the bishop was essentially implying that the sexuality and/or body of the human being should not be a determining factor of worthiness for holy orders.  Historically, there is a precedent that says otherwise. Indeed, as I have taught before, the Gnostics who copied many Christian rituals possessed a female priesthood. They also denied that Christ was really a human being. If he were not really a man, we are not redeemed. Do we really want to run this course? I think not. One minor bishop does not constitute or veto the whole Magisterium in union with the Pope.

Abusing St. Thomas’ appreciation of instrumental causality, the bishop wrote that “Christ makes use of the instrument of a priest in the sacraments in the same way that a physician makes use of a scalpel — as an instrument, although in this case, an animate instrument.” What he bypasses is that a man is not a scalpel and a priest is not any man. The nature of the instrument must be respected. Christ has so configured a man that through ordination he is capable of making the Lord present through his very person. This is the legitimate instrumentality of the priest at Mass.

The bishop’s article about the priesthood and women is reprinted in his book, THE PRACTICAL PROPHET.  The post was a letter to a proponent of women’s ordination.   

AMAZON:  The Practical Prophet

Fortifying Ourselves in the Defense of the Faith

Many anti-Catholics only speak in general terms and with isolated proof texts from Scripture. Why? I suspect that their lack of background is part of it. Personal inspiration is an element of his or her faith that makes every such believer into his own Pope. Anyone, who contradicts them, obviously in their own minds, is deceived and/or lost. Further, fundamentalism tends to discredit cultural and language elements, or else offers a narrow interpretation. Often believers are guilty of the very thing of which they accuse Catholics, parroting their ministers and the leaders of their bible study groups. An element of seduction associated with fellowship is also at work. This emotional quality can make any rational discussion difficult or impossible. History is also avoided or skewed so as to avoid the legacy of Catholicism and its contribution to our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Critics have sometimes challenged me for being too general in my arguments. Nevertheless, while on Internet message boards I always preferred a response to the deletion of a post. Of course, some comments are so vulgar and offensive that they must be deleted. These critics would then argue (no doubt from minimal experience) that such an approach was typical of Catholic priests who cannot answer and feel trapped regarding so-called biblical truths. What really troubled this priest was the total disregard for scholarship and objectivity in answers. I did not make them up; they were the conclusions of learned scholars of faith, filled with the Holy Spirit.

Many of the more vocal anti-Catholic fundamentalists claim a Catholic background. Often it is quite minimal or contrived. A number of them have bragged to me about receiving all the sacraments and even getting married in the Church. As in following a formula, the next thing they report is that doubts arose when they started to read the Scriptures. I always suspect that they had “some help” to come to their anti-Catholic conclusions. Such is frequently proven to be the case, although these facts are at first withheld.

There is a purported moment of personal awakening and they discover that the Bible teaches contrary to Catholic doctrine and practice. What are some of the alleged problems?

1. The claim of the Catholic Church that the Bible is a Catholic book written for Catholics only.

Well, we do believe that the Catholic Church today is one with the Christian community established by Jesus and that is chronicled in the New Testament. This much is true. However, we also believe that the Holy Scriptures may be efficacious for all: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. It is in a unique fashion, “our” book, but we as Catholics do not begrudge it to others; indeed, they may find true consolation and encouragement toward conversion in its pages. We are glad to have been party to its divine inspiration and composition. It is truly a gift to all humanity. An insistence that the Catholic Church (in union with our Orthodox brothers and sisters) had nothing to do with the development of the New Testament and the establishment of the canon (for both the Old and New Testaments) runs counter to the historical record. Insistence to the contrary remains unsubstantiated. Rather, the fundamentalist simply contends that the Catholic Church has sought to suppress the Bible. This sidesteps the early history of the Bible and the conflicts over errant translations.

2. They insist that there are only 66 books in the biblical canon as opposed to the 73 in Catholic bibles.

The fundamentalist stipulates that Catholics “added” books and yet what happened was that after fifteen hundred years, Martin Luther SUBTRACTED books from it. He says they show no degree of inspiration and that they teach false doctrine– in other words, things offensive to the Protestant reformers and their modern-day offspring in the world today. He says that Christians did not accept these “Catholic” books in biblical times (he must mean apostolic) and yet there is ample evidence that they did. Indeed, the Greek canon containing the disputed books was implemented whenever Jesus quoted the Old Testament in the Gospels.

The biased critic tells us that Palestinian Jews during the time of Christ had already determined the Old Testament canon. This is historically misleading because it dismisses the legacy of the many Jews of the Diaspora. The Pharisees of Palestine set up four arbitrary criteria for the biblical canon:

(1) They had to be in harmony with the Torah or Law as interpreted at that time;

(2) They had to be written prior to Ezra;

(3) They had to be in Hebrew; and

(4) They had to originate in Palestine.

This immediately eliminated Judith (Aramaic); Wisdom, 2 Maccabees (Greek), Tobit, parts of Daniel and Esther (Aramaic and outside Palestine), Baruch (outside Palestine), and Sirach and 1 Maccabees (written after Ezra). All Jews did NOT generally accept this canon until a century AFTER Christ. There is evidence that the rabbinical redactor was also motivated by a concern to make the Hebrew Scriptures distinctively different from the canon used by Christians. From the earliest days, the Christian Church accepted the Jewish canon from the Greek-Roman tradition, the ALEXANDRINE CANON. As I have said before, Jesus himself quoted from this bible and the canon was not seriously challenged until the Protestant reformation. It should be noted that Martin Luther also rejected New Testament books. It is interesting that while Protestants accept Luther’s abbreviated Hebrew canon, they replaced the books he stripped from the New Testament. What did he remove? He eliminated Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation (Apocalypse).

[GOOD SOURCE:  Notes to the Fireside New American Bible (2011), p. xiv-xv.]

3. The anti-Catholic fundamentalist routinely claims that it is easy to prove the non-existence of the Catholic Church in the earliest days and yet they offer no real proof whatsoever.

Why? It is because it cannot be done. Rather, he attacks elements of the Church that have organically developed over time. This is like saying the boy did not exist because he did not yet resemble the man.

NO POPE? – Except regarding “fatherhood” (papa/pater), the word was not used, but this does not dismiss the role of Peter and his successors. Their authority remains, no matter what they are called.

NO PRIESTS? – There is ample evidence of men who participated in the one priesthood of Christ.

NO SACRIFICE OF THE MASS? – Here is the utter dismissal of the command of Christ at the Last Supper to perpetuate it “in remembrance” of him. The cultic and sacrificial language of the setting is unavoidable.

NO NUNS? – Of course, there were holy women who from their purses aided Jesus and the apostles and later others like St. Paul.

NO MONKS? – St. Paul himself advises a celibate life and imposes severity upon himself. The evangelical counsels are in effect.

NO CONFESSIONAL? – Jesus and then his apostles would make possible the forgiveness of sins. Even today, no special room is absolutely required.

NO PRAYERS TO MARY? – And yet, there are Scriptural examples of orations to consecrated figures or spiritual messengers from God.

NO PURGATORY? – Although Jesus offered ample evidence in his statements that some would need to be purified by fire and pay the last penny.

The anti-Catholic critic throws out one issue after another, making a concerted response on any one topic difficult to impossible. He needs no evidence, the charge itself is a proof in his own reckoning and unfortunately, enough to influence weak minds.

Catholics agree that those who had a saving faith sought baptism. However, he speaks about the various local congregations as if there were no unity with one another. Just as today, in reference to the many parishes and dioceses, the Catholic Church is one. Jesus established a Church, not many churches.

He contends that bishops were only the local pastors; and yet, the history of the matter would show that as the churches grew, so did their jurisdiction. These “episcopoi” were literally the successors to the apostles and shared in the high priesthood of Christ. There were many helpers, even though many human elements of the true Church would have to develop over time. Catholicism, for instance, admits that the papal electors (cardinals) represent a later adaptation to insure the smooth transition of authority and the effective running of the Church. There is no need for an absolute return to primitive Christianity. Indeed, because of the size of the Church, it would not work.

Protestant communities which wipe out the gains from most of Church history are forced to reinvent the wheel in this regard.

The assertion that Peter never went to Rome is a denial of archeological evidence, extra-biblical testimony, and the living tradition of the Church. Since it does not appear in the Bible, such fundamentalist critics assume that it could not have happened. The anti-Catholic critic mentions the rebuke and difference of opinion from Paul toward Peter in Galatians 2:11-14, but says nothing about the fact that Peter gives the decisive decision regarding the initiation of the Gentile men at the council in Jerusalem. He confuses impeccability with infallibility. Papal infallibility does not mean that popes are sinless or that every opinion they have is necessarily right. It is peculiar that anti-Catholic critics will often grant the Pope more authority in their arguments than he actually possesses. Of course, the critics save the final say for themselves.

Let me repeat, at the first council of the Church in Jerusalem,  after the debate about ritual circumcision, it is Peter who resolves the matter. The mere fact that Paul and Barnabas had come to Jerusalem illustrated their confidence in the apostolic authority there. As in any council, there was debate and dialogue; however, in the end it was Peter who stood up and supported Paul in his refusal to impose the Mosaic Law upon the Gentiles– they would not have to become Jews before becoming Christians. Citing the work of God’s Spirit in Cornelius and his household, whom they knew and accepted, Peter summarizes the core proclamation of salvation: “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they” (Acts 15:7-11). We are told that the whole assembly was reduced to silence. The issue was resolved. Paul and Barnabas then enthusiastically recounted how God had used them as instruments to reach the Gentiles.

Many distinctions need to be made about Peter. He is certainly much altered after the Christ has suffered, died, and risen. The Holy Spirit on Pentecost grants him a special charism of authority and infallibility.

This did not mean that either Peter or his successors would be impeccable and unable to sin. The miraculous truth in the long history of the Church is that even weak and sinful men have seemed changed by the office of Peter. Without such an authority, we would suffer from the same endless fragmentation and deviation from Gospel truth that other religious communities experience. We believe we have Christ’s Rock to preserve and protect the deposit of faith. Given to Peter, this gift of infallibility is for the entire Church. We see its execution observed when the Holy Father makes a formal proclamation of dogma as the universal shepherd (the Vicar of Christ) on a matter of faith or morals. Neither the Pope, nor the bishops, nor an ecumenical council can manufacture new beliefs– they define something which has always been taught and believed, but reformulate it in a more concise and solemn way. A papal declaration along these terms is an exercise of his Universal Extraordinary Magisterium.

The unanimous teaching of all the world’s bishops in union with the Pope is called the Universal Ordinary Magisterium. This latter expression of infallibility is much more common. The laity and the religious of the Church also enter into this mystery. The Sensus Fidelium (sense of the faithful) among Catholics who have informed their consciences according to Church teaching and who live out the faith also touch upon this mystery of faith. (Admittedly this latter aspect is usually only mentioned by dissenters these days; however, they cite people who have largely rejected the deposit of faith and the Christian life– the ones to whom it does not really apply.)

Anti-Catholic fundamentalists often contradict themselves. For instance, they might argue, contrary to accepted biblical interpretation, that Peter went to the actual Babylon but not to Rome (1 Peter 5:13). However, if he at first disputes that “Babylon” was the designation for Rome coined by early Christians; he next acknowledges it in regards to the Popes and prophesies about the antichrist in the book of Revelation. Of course, now he is confusing the pagan Rome of the old empire with the Christian Rome of the Church.

Obviously, as a good anti-Catholic apologist, he denies the practice of asking angels, saints, or Mary to pray with and for us. Even those who were formerly Catholic seem ignorant of the fact that Catholicism teaches that all prayer has as its proper object, almighty God. Indeed, upon a host of issues, the former Catholics seem to develop a convenient amnesia about the truths and practices they once embraced. Instead, they attack “straw man” arguments, caricatures of a largely false or distorted Catholic faith, which were probably spoon-fed into them by the Church’s enemies.

These critics usually accept the divinity of Christ, something that others (as in cults) often reject. We can at least agree upon this point. He also acknowledges the Trinity. Although, he will fight the Catholic about the term itself since it is not in the Bible.

I remember one fundamentalist arguing with me by shouting a double negative, “We don’t need no mediator except Christ in going to Father!” What he actually means, and Catholics agree, is that Jesus is our Mediator before God and brings our offering and prayer to the Father. The discussion turned to the subject of worship and he said rightly that the Bible prohibits the “worship” of graven images. Unfortunately, he wrongly accused the Catholic Church of doing so. The economy of images is altered by the incarnation, and thus pictures and statues for Catholics are venerated as depicting holy personages or themes, but they are NOT WORSHIPPED. Only God is truly given divine worship.

Context here means everything. Otherwise, one would have to say that the Word of God contradicts itself. The invisible God of the Hebrews absolutely forbid the making of images for purposes of divine adoration. However, he did not prohibit images as such. Indeed, in the case of the ark, they were mandated. Of course, given the inclination of the early Jews to fall easily into idol worship, it is no wonder that the prohibition was often extended and made more severe.

Making a secular comparison, many of us adorn our homes with statuary, paintings, and photographs. We have them for beauty and for sentimental reasons. Is a picture of one’s child or a grandmother vain idolatry? I think not. Neither are depictions of saints and other holy personages.

The anti-Catholic critic condemns the Church for its many volumes on the liturgy and upon doctrine; and yet he makes no qualm about the many words his kind employs to attack us. Why would they deny Catholics the right to share their insights and spiritual reflection upon the Gospel? Any view that does not agree with his own, he considers consider a twisting of Scripture. The anti-Catholic fundamentalist becomes his own final (and flawed) authority.

Such enemies of the Church condemn Catholic remembrance and prayer for the dead, dismissing the second book of Maccabees. And yet, such a practice finds other Scriptural support and is an ancient Christian practice derived from an even older Jewish one.

Almost always their demagogic diatribes must include certain castigation against the role of works in Catholic theology. No mention is made that many modern-day Lutherans and Catholics have come to a consensus regarding justification by faith. They create false parodies of Catholic faith to tear them down. They are surprised to hear that Catholics also teach and preach Ephesians 2:8-9:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God– not because of works, lest any man should boast.”

Salvation is a gratuity from God. The work that saves is the self-offering of Christ. Apart from Christ, we cannot save ourselves. If divine grace is alive in us then our Lord can continue to work in our lives. Everything done by Christ has value or worth.

Toward the end of nasty debates and/or vicious diatribes, many anti-Catholic critics will try to disguise their animus of hatred by saying that they love Catholics or that they do not condemn the Catholic Church. Do not believe them. When they have finished, damning the Church is precisely what they have done.

At points the anti-Catholic critic spouts silliness. He suggests that the Catholic Church disregard all its doctrines for the so-called true Gospel. And yet, her doctrines represent the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Catholics would agree with fundamentalists that men inspired by the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible. God is the principal author of Sacred Scripture. Differences in this regard would be that Catholics do not see such inspiration as a passive dictation but as the use of the whole person with his culture, understanding and language as part of the equation. This is Catholic doctrine, should we forsake it? I do not believe so.

Catholics would agree that Jesus is our one Mediator who makes possible our entry into heaven. This is Catholic doctrine, should we forsake it? Again, such a teaching is an essential element of the Christian faith. Jesus makes all the difference. The fundamentalist anti-Catholic critic might wrongly claim however that the “Catholic Jesus” is not the same Jesus with whom they have a personal relationship and encounter in the Gospels.

Catholics contend that Jesus rose from the dead. This is Catholic doctrine, should we forsake it? But Catholics also believe that the risen Jesus is present in the Church and the sacraments. While he might acknowledge a presence in God’s Word, the fundamentalist critic focuses upon the Second Coming as if Christ’s presence is either locked into the past or waiting in the future. Catholics not only have faith in Jesus, but know his substantial or real presence behind the accidentals of bread and wine.

Catholics contend that Jesus is God and man. This is Catholic doctrine, should we forsake it? Some of the anti-Catholic cults fall prey to the old Christological controversies which plagued the Church in the early centuries. I have heard ministers argue that the Jesus on earth is different than God’s Son or the Christ in heaven. Others subscribe to a faulty Adoptionism as if Jesus was somehow conscripted into being the Messiah and Lord. Others speak about Jesus like the Gnostics of old, certainly divine but pretending to be a mortal man. The Catholic Church possesses the full truth: Jesus is a divine person with a complete human and divine nature. Jesus was the pre-existent Logos or Word who entered human history as one of us.

The anti-Catholic critic paints with broad strokes and condemns what he does not understand. Many Catholics in the past were poorly instructed and their ignorance became fair game for religious bigots and fanatics. It is truly sad. Hopefully this book will help fortify Catholics against such assaults in the future.

Can Catholics Kill Protestants? And Other Fables

There are some charges beyond ridiculous. One of these is that the Canon Law of the Catholic Church advocates the killing of Protestants. Again, the anti-Catholic loves sensationalism and scare tactics. It is not unlike the BIG LIE tactics of the WWII Nazi propaganda machine. The Church is not only blamed for the Dark Ages and the Inquisition but probably for everything from bad breath to smelly feet. Instead of pictured as a loving mother, the anti-Catholic calls the Church of Rome a “monster,” “the beast” or “the harlot.” He cannot tolerate her authority or the possibility that there is a claim to truth beyond his control. Such a belligerent stance often puts the anti-Catholic bigot in the embarrassing position of castigating even those policies and persons with whom he would have an affinity, if he truly loves the Lord. Thus, he takes public positions against pro-life endeavors which he probably favors all because they originate with the Catholic Church. He also suggests that the likes of Mother Teresa are burning in hell because they did not espouse fundamentalist propositions; indeed, Mother Teresa closely associated the Eucharist with her charity endeavors. He becomes the very thing he says he hates about the Catholic Church, intolerant and dishonest.

EXCOMMUNICATION – Turning his attention to this subject, the anti-Catholic denies the Church any authority to discipline her membership. However, he ignores the fact that many Protestant communities shun and expel those who do not follow the party line. In ancient days banishment was preferred to taking the life of an unbeliever. Communion in the Catholic Church implies uniformity in worship and belief. If such a unity is imperiled by heresy and/or irregular worship, the Church has the obligation to protect the integrity of the faith. One critic compared this policy to the work of Hitler or the Red Scare. However, there is no comparison. The substance of what is being protected is the truth, not egregious deceits as in totalitarianism. Further, one may still dissent, but one may not do so upon a serious matter and pretend to be a good Catholic Christian. The two matters which bring automatic excommunication are harming the person of the Pope and deliberately procuring an abortion. Would the anti-Catholic argue contrarily for violence or for excusing the murder of babies? I hope not.

PROSCRIPTION FROM OFFICES – This only pertains to ecclesiastical offices these days as most governments in the West are secular. Should a person continue as a pastor of souls if he is leading them into error or causing scandal by his conduct? I think not. In ancient days, this concern was tied up with the tension with kings over authority and interference in Church matters. While this point is now more historical than current, the Pope has insisted that Catholic priests and male and female religious not hold political positions in civil governments. Would the anti-Catholic who feels this infringes upon private rights really want a Catholic clergyman as his Senator or President? I doubt it. He makes a lot of noise for nothing!

CONFISCATION OF GOODS – This notion is quite archaic and no longer applies except in cases where goods belonging to the Church have been illicitly procured. Would the anti-Catholic want a disgruntled pastor to sell his church from under him or leave it to children with no interest in religion? No. It was the same issue with the Catholic faith. The temporal goods of the Church belong to the People of God. I would readily compare the few hundred dollars a month most of our priests get to the high salaries of many evangelical and fundamentalist ministers any day! Who is it who is really getting rich on religion? On top of this most priests have to maintain their own car, pay insurance, and pay the same taxes as all the rest of us. Religious clergy even take a vow of poverty. Mother Teresa’s sisters only possess two habits each and a bucket to wash them in. Millions upon millions go to charity and the Vatican often suffers a short-fall in funds. Where is this rich Vatican government that anti-Catholics shout about? Should the Church sell off her holdings of art to private collectors and deprive the world of what she safeguards for all humanity? The argument of the anti-Catholic bigot on this score is a tumbling house of cards.

EXECUTION – Anti-Catholics play this tune for all they can get out of it. Again, nations, Protestant, Catholic, Moslem, and Secular have often used religion to their own ends. The complicity of certain ones in the membership (or in leadership) is not grounds for damning the entire Church fellowship. In ancient times, the people themselves would often drag out and lynch heretics. The Church encouraged the rule of law to bring order and justice to the situation. Oftentimes confiscation of property and banishment was the punishment. However, over time the death penalty did encroach upon the scene. Further, until recent times, the Papacy actually retained a substantial territory, the Papal States. Consumed by the Italian unification movement, all that remains is the small Vatican City. The civil legislation of the old Papal States must be reckoned on the same level as other nations. Countries in the past and in the present have sometimes allowed the death penalty for threats to society. Records indicate that such executions in papal lands dealt with capital crimes like murder. Today, the Church has discerned a development in doctrine that would rescind this right of the state to take life since it adds to the current culture of death. Incarceration and rehabilitation are preferred avenues for criminals. However, this is again in reference to what we would all discern to be crimes against society. The irony here is that while many fundamentalists side with Catholics against abortion, they are frequently strong advocates of capital punishment in our own nation. This brings us back to the ludicrous assertion that Catholics are given liberty to kill Protestants. It just is not so. Alongside fundamentalists who want free access to the people inside the old Soviet Union, the Catholic Church has joined her voice in defending the sanctity of conscience and religious liberty as a constitutive right of the human person.

Development along these lines does not impinge upon the charism of infallibility regarding faith and morals given the Church. While the Church is holy because of the abiding presence of Christ, her members are always sinners in need of their redeemer, Christ. Regarding matters of science and practical matters of government, the Church has had to feel her way through time just like other organizations. The Church may be infallible, but she is not always impeccable. Anti-Catholics often fail to make this distinction.

One anti-Catholic had to go all the way to Gratian’s Decretals of the 12th century (one of the earliest attempts to codify the laws of Christendom) in order to discredit the Catholic Church. His own denomination did not yet exist; indeed, the Protestant Reformation had yet to happen. Nevertheless, he belittles the Church for oppressing his compatriots during that time.

Utterly desperate to show that Catholics can kill Protestants with impunity, one anti-Catholic bigot cites the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre. The king’s sister, Margaret of Valois, married an important Protestant leader, Henry of Navarre. Her mother and her family secretly arranged for his assassination. When it failed, they convinced the king that there would be a Huguenot reprisal. They decided to strike first but the government could not retain the violence. Religious war broke out and upon his conversion to Catholicism, Henry of Navarre became king, himself. Unfortunately, another religious war would follow. The anti-Catholic bigot gives few of the facts and condemns the whole Catholic Church for what was a French civil war.

The typical bigoted anti-Catholic’s views which I have largely reviewed here always end with a terrible bluntness. He says that unless one leaves the Catholic Church, one must be damned to hell. He tells the Catholic to run, but only gives him a religion which judges itself by its hate of Catholicism. That is no choice. The Catholic should stay home and explore his own spiritual roots. Our history may have some blemishes, but it also contains many jewels. It is the Church of the saints and the family of God established by Jesus.

Good Works an Element of Salvation

ANTI-CATHOLIC ASSERTION

Good works have NO part to play in our salvation.

[Blood of Christ saves] … and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

[Faith alone saves] And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God — to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus. What occasion is there then for boasting? It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith. For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Romans 3:24-28).

CATHOLIC TRUTH

Good works have a part to play in our salvation.

But what is it that fundamentalists think they understand? Fundamentalists tend to say that good works are the fruits which come from being saved. They would insist that they are not a means to salvation. If a person is one of the elect, it will be manifested by his good works as one filled with Christ’s spirit. Thus, in their estimation, it is not the works, but the blood of Christ which earns salvation.

Sometimes Catholics quote James 2:20 in their defense that “faith without works is useless”; however, what this means is that the type of faith which is saving is one which manifests the work of God. Note that James 2:19 has the demons believing and trembling. Theirs is not a saving faith. Many say they believe in Jesus and yet they refuse to follow him. Theirs is not a saving faith. A person of true faith experiences the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and good works will find expression in his life. Such works are a confirmation of true faith. Going even further, faith is professed by an act of will that uses words and works. The model of Abraham is recalled in James 2:21-23 in which he believed in God to the extent of being willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac. God came first and he trusted that God could still keep his promises, no matter what.

This last Scripture text (Romans) might be a bit misleading. The works mentioned here are not those which constitute an element of our faith in Christ. The argument here is not entirely different from the circumcision debate at the council in Jerusalem. The tension is not between faith and good deeds but Christian faith and the Jewish law. This contrast becomes clear if we read further: “Does God belong to Jews alone? Does he not belong to Gentiles, too? Yes, also to Gentiles, for God is one and will justify the circumcised on the basis of faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Are we then annulling the law by this faith? Of course not! On the contrary, we are supporting the law” (Romans 3:29-31). The interpretation given by fundamentalists to James makes me cringe. James says quite bluntly, “Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:20). Mentioning Abraham, it was not that his works were just a fruit of his faith; rather, they were a vital ingredient of it. “You see that faith was active ALONG WITH his works, and faith was COMPLETED by the works” (James 2:22). The reformer, Martin Luther admitted that the Letter of James could not be reconciled with his view that we were saved by faith alone. Consequently, he omitted this letter from his bible. Others readmitted this wonderful Catholic testimony back into the Protestant bible. The anti-Catholic’s stereotype of the Church’s view of justification is inexact and misleading. Regarding the need for a faith which ushers in saving grace, there would be concord. Further, it is obvious that a true faith will show itself with good fruits. Again, there is no argument here, except in the critic’s own mind. The citation from James here is not entirely as the fundamentalist describes. It appears that James is indeed offering a correction to an exaggeration of the Pauline view. The Catholic Church herself admits that good works cut off from faith and sanctifying grace would avail us nothing. The one extreme would contend that good deeds earn salvation; the other, that faith in the Lord (dedicating themselves to trust in God through Jesus) would suffice. Paul actually steers a middle course by speaking about the importance of faith lived out in love (Galatians 5). Dynamic faith is not only a profession in words but an interior disposition actuated by the grace of God and substantiated by the life of charity. The Catholic stress on the incarnation is crucial here. If Christ is alive inside of us, then the good deeds we perform are ultimately the works of Christ. Because they are the extension of the Lord’s saving activity, they have merit. Justification is intimately bound up with our entry into God’s community of faith, the Church. Baptism is the entry into this life and the sacraments are the essential means of our growth. Faith and works (in love) are two sides of the same coin; there may be some tension between these elements, but no strict division.

THE UNIVERSAL CATECHISM ON FAITH & WORKS:

[CCC #1814] Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God” (DV 5). For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Living faith “work[s] through charity” (Romans 1:17; Galatians 5:6).

[CCC #1815] The gift of faith remains in one who has not sinned against it (Trent). But “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26): when it is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body.

[CCC #1816] The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks” (LG 42). Service and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, Ia lso will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

[Blood of Christ saves if we walk in God’s ways (good works with faith) in the community of the Church] But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7)

[Faith (in Jesus), charity (in caring for injuries and feeding the hungry) and the certain hope of salvation (in baptism) comes to us as a Christian family] And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” So they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house. He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God (Acts 16:31-34).

[Remarking about Abraham] See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route? For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (James 2:24-26).

[Faith, Hope, and Love] For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).

Veneration (Worship?) of Images

ANTI-CATHOLIC ASSERTION

Catholics venerate or worship images. The Pope himself bows before statues of Mary. Similarly, they worship Christ in the Eucharist. They also possess statues, candles, and other such religious objects in their homes and churches. All these things violate the commandments and are offensive to God.

[The fashioning and veneration of images is forbidden as idolatry] “You shall not carve idols [any graven image] for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, …” (Exodus 20:4-5).

CATHOLIC TRUTH

No, Catholics do not “worship” images. Veneration is different from the kind of exclusive worship and adoration owed to God alone. Rather, we honor and treat with respect those things which remind us of God and those in whom the Lord has done wondrous things. The honor we show the Blessed Virgin Mary is particularly pronounced; however, it is not the same kind of worship which we render to God. Unlike the ancient idol worshippers, the honor is paid not to the physical representation, but to the one who is signified. Definitions are very important. Holy objects often serve the same function as mementos and photographs in our homes; they remind us of our friends and family. Similarly, religious statues, pictures, and all the rest bring to mind our spiritual family of faith and our identity as part of it.

Candles are symbolic of Jesus himself. The smoke rises as prayer is taken into heaven. They give off light and Jesus is the Light of the World, dispelling the darkness of sin and death. They give off heat, and Jesus gave the warmth of healing and forgiveness to others. Like the candle which exhausts itself for our benefit, Jesus surrenders his life that we might be redeemed. Turning to the Eucharist, Jesus himself told us that it was his flesh and blood, the living sacrament of his presence. We can worship this divine mystery because it is Jesus and Jesus is God.

Fundamentalist anti-Catholics are not consistent on this score about graven images. Come Christmas, they usually have statuary-nativity scenes like everyone else. Also, if they were to be consistent in their strict observance of this commandment, it would also include the toy dolls they buy their children. Some cults actually do this! The Catholic view of images is based on the permissible symbolic use of them in the Old Testament and the fact that Christ himself through the incarnation reveals the transcendent God. God allowed images which symbolically pointed to our ultimate salvation in the Lord. The historical fact of the God-Man, Christ, ushers in a new “economy” of images [CCC #2131].

[To be healed from the poisonous bites of serpents] So Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, “Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.” Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered (Numbers 21:7-9). {See also Wisdom 16:6-8}

[Jesus’ humanity is a healing image of God] “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (John 3:14).

[Regarding the ark of the covenant] “Make two cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the propitiatory, fastening them so that one cherub springs direct from each end. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, covering the propitiatory with them; they shall be turned toward each other, but with their faces looking toward the propitiatory” (Exodus 25:18-20). {See also 1 Kings 6:23-28}.