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The Charge of Idolatry Against Catholicism

Six years ago, a person calling himself DKMENSA argued from a Catholic prelate’s candle-lighting at an interfaith conference that this was proof of what other priests do:  the lighting of candles, the burning of incense and the bowing before idols.  It started a brief discussion which is recorded here.  He liked to write in caps.

DKMENSA:

FATHER JOE, OBSERVE THE FOLLOWING IN RESPECTS TO THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.  AS A CATHOLIC, I REMEMBER THE PRIESTS BOWING BEFORE IMAGES OF “MARY” AND OTHERS IN WORSHIP (SERVITUDE).

FATHER JOE:

While certainly believers can kneel before a statue of a saint to offer prayer, such is not understood as strictly the posture of divine worship any more than a bow before royalty. It is a sign of respect and sometimes a posture for prayer. All prayer has as its proper object, Almighty God. However, Catholics might pray before a picture or image of a saint, asking intercession of a brother or sister or our Blessed Mother who is in heaven. We are asking them to pray FOR and WITH us. We are a family or community. Such is the basic understanding regarding the identity of the Church. We pray for one another and believe in the resurrection of the dead. We are NOT worshipping the statue or picture any more than a man worships the photo of his wife and children. However, they do bring to his mind and heart those whom he loves. It is the same in the Church regarding saints. Were you not taught this when you were a Catholic?

DKMENSA:

DURING CATHECHISM, WE WERE ALSO TAUGHT TO PRAY TO THESE SAME IMAGES. UNLESS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS CHANGED, THESE ACTS ARE ALSO IN DIRECT CONTRADICTION TO THE TEACHINGS OF THE COMMANDMENTS.

FATHER JOE:

I dare you to find any approved catechism that says we are to pray TO the images! We venerate sacramentals but we do not pray to them. Such is not Catholicism but superstition. I suspect that you did not really know your catechism but later bought a false caricature of Catholic faith from anti-Catholic fundamentalists. You allowed them to spoon-feed you lies or a straw man Catholicism that could be easily discredited. It is one thing to oppose Catholic practice and teachings; but you should at least get it right. Anything else is bearing FALSE WITNESS against your neighbor. The last time I looked there was also a commandment about that!

DKMENSA:

Exodus 20:3: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

FATHER JOE:

Yes, this is Catholic teaching. Ours is a jealous God. God is one or has one divine nature. This is in the catechism!

DKMENSA:

Exodus 20:4: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of anything] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth.

FATHER JOE:

Even the Jews knew that this commandment was not absolute. The Ark of the Covenant was adorned with angels and a seraph upon a pole was fashioned at Moses’ command so that those who looked upon it might be healed. In any case, the understanding is that no graven image was to be made that would be worshipped as divine, as the pagans practiced. I have already explained that Catholics do not worship images. We recall the ones represented. Further, the ECONOMY OF IMAGES is somewhat different for Christians than it is for Jews. Why? It has to do with the incarnation of Christ. God became a human being in Jesus Christ. He is God’s Son. The image of Christ in statuary or in pictures (as found in bibles and in religious art) is permissible because Jesus is the revelation of the Father. He shows us the face of God. That is why at Christmas everyone knows what child rests in the manger, no matter how depicted in art. It is the Christ-child. God reveals himself in our shared humanity. God assumed our human nature that we might be redeemed and saved. He dies on the Cross for our sake. This is in the catechism!

DKMENSA:

Exodus 20:5: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me.

FATHER JOE:

The reference to “bow down” has less to do with posture as it does with worship. Again, we as Catholics are not so stupid as to think statuary made from plaster can save us. Do you think us fools? We do not serve religious art, but the God who is honored by his saints who shed their blood in imitation of Christ. We take up our crosses and we follow Jesus. The God of Catholics is the same as that of the Jews. However, we believe that this God has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit: three divine persons in one God. Jesus is faithful to the Father unto the Cross. He offers his flesh and blood as a blameless oblation to the Father on Calvary. He died and then by the power of the Holy Spirit, (his own power), raised himself from the dead. He sent the Paraclete or Holy Spirit upon the infant Church. He ascended to the Father and sits at his right hand. He told his apostles (see the end of Matthew’s Gospel) to go out to the entire world and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is my faith. This is the Catholic faith. What part of it do you find objectionable? This is also in the catechism… and in our BIBLES!

If you have any concern about your own salvation and the danger of misrepresenting fellow Christians, then I would urge you to study Catholicism NOT from her enemies but from her own mouth. Then you personally can say YES or NO. But just because you WERE a Catholic, do not presume in pride that you already know it all. Christians should always approach one another and the mysteries of faith with TRUE HUMILITY.  I will pray for you.

DKMENSA:

I agree that according to the Commandment, any image made of things on earth or in heaven (e.g. the Cross, Jesus, Mary) must not be made with the intention to worship, bow down to, pay homage, etc.

FATHER JOE:  There is really very little that we agree upon.

One Response

  1. Dear Father Joe,

    Thank you for your work and pacience in teaching the truth to those who visit your blog.

    In my humble blog Ecclesia Militans, I deal with these kinds of comments and accusations on a daily basis. I have written extensively on these topics and never cease to amaze myself with the amount of misconceived ideas passed on to our poor separated brethren. I have been blogging for four years, and sometimes I feel like I cannot carry on and even in the real world, things seem to be getting more difficult… Just today, over lunch, I had this unpleasant conversation with my husband – who is a Protestant – on a topic that, we have discussed quite a few times over the years. I thought I had managed to prove to him that his views were not correct and that the Catholic teaching on papal infallibility is indeed, a crucial element of God’s plan for the salvation of His people… How sad I was to find out that all those years of debate, extensive research, had not had any result… I am tired of taking the offenses from many of the Protestants that visit my blog and “urge” me to turn to God and repent. Now, in my own home, I have to put up with one of my own loved ones challenging my faith and beliefs at every opportunity.

    I love my husband and I know he loves me. But I say this loud and clear to every Catholic out there: The wisdom of the Church is divine. When she says that she does not recommend mixed faith marriages, it is for a good reason. This is my cross. I hope and pray I will be able to carry it. We have two children. My husband consistently refuses to pray as a family, BECAUSE his Protestant belief tells him that prayer is a private thing. You have to go into your room, shut the door… well, you the passage…

    In the meantime, I carry on feeling as if I am a drop of water in the sea. Will my children follow my example or their father’s whom they certainly are more found of…. only time will tell.

    Please, Pray for me.

    Helen

    Ps. On the teaching of the church on Images and worship, you may want to refer your readers to this:

    Catechism of the Christian Doctrine:

    181. Does the first Commandment forbid the making of images?
    The first Commandment does not forbid the making of images, but the making of idols; that is, it forbids us to make images to be adored and honoured as gods.
    182. Does the first Commandment forbid dealing with the devil and superstitious practices?
    The first Commandment forbi& all dealing with the devil and superstitious practices, such as consulting spiritualists and fortune-tellers, and trusting to charms, omens, dreams, and such-like fooleries.
    183. Are all sins of sacrilege and simony also forbidden by the first Commandment?
    All sins of sacrilege and simony are also forbidden by the first Commandment.
    184. Is it forbidden to give divine honour or worship to the Angels and Saints?
    It is forbidden to give divine honour or worship to the Angels and Saints, for this belongs to God alone.
    185. What kind of honour or worship should we pay to the Angels and Saints?
    We should pay to the Angels and Saints an inferior honour or worship, for this is due to them as the servants and special friends of God.
    186. What honour should we give to relies, crucifixes, and holy pictures?
    We should give relics, crucifixes, and holy pictures a relative honour, as they relate to Christ and his Saints, and are memorials of them.
    187. Do we pray to relics or images?
    We do not pray to relies or images, for they can neither see, nor hear, nor help us.

    FATHER JOE: I am not sure why your husband will not pray with you and the children. Protestants often pray together. The issue is that a personal relationship is wrongly allowed to cancel out our corporate relationship with Jesus. As much as he is able, he should read Scripture and pray with you. There is so much we share and I would emphasize that for the sake of family harmony. As for papal infallibility, it may be fortuitous that your husband does not accept it. How is that? Well, it is certainly the truth, but had your husband believed it and still failed to convert, he might have fallen under the negative verdict of the Fourth Lateran Council about “no salvation outside the Church.” If one truly accepts papal infallibility then one must accept all other claims about the importance and nature of the faith. Any who believe that the Catholic Church is the true Church established by Christ and refuses to join necessarily casts himself outside the saving dispensation. Most Protestants remain Protestants because they do not accept papal primacy and authority. I will keep you all in prayer. Always speak well of your husband and love him. Mixed marriages are difficult but be assured that if spouses are baptized and the vows are witnessed by a priest, then they a holy sacraments. There should be no second-guessing or regrets. Your marriage with its joys and sorrows is part of your calling. How you live it out is your fidelity to divine providence. Many prayers, peace!

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