Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Roman Catholicism and Church History

Roman Catholics often appeal to the church fathers to support their ecclesial framework. However, the lens by which they read the church fathers often involves assuming their conclusions prior to the investigation.

For example, in his Letter to the Prelates and Clergy of France in September 8, 1899, Pope Leo XII wrote "Those who study it [history] must never lose sight of the fact that it contains a collection of dogmatic facts, which impose themselves upon our faith, and which nobody is ever permitted to call in doubt." Or again, Cardinal Manning wrote, "The appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the divine voice of the church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be divine." Elsewhere Manning commented, "The appeal from the living voice of the Church to any tribunal whatsoever, human history included, is an act of private judgment and a treason because that living voice is supreme; and to appeal from that supreme voice is also a heresy because that voice by divine assistance is infallible." In other words, you person must begin your study of history assuming that Catholicism is already true. This circular approach makes it difficult for Roman Catholic theologians to come to an objective assessment of the history record, though they frequently make appeals to the church fathers for polemical purposes.

When one reads church history without Roman Catholic lenses on, one finds the church fathers actually challenge Roman Catholic teaching on a number of key points. For example, a survey from Roman Catholic scholar Jean de Launoy found that only seventeen Church Fathers thought of the rock as Peter in the iconic Petrine text of Matthew 16:18-19, whereas a full forty-four believed the 'rock' referred to Peter's confession, while sixteen thought that Christ himself was the rock and eight thought that the rock represented all of the apostles. The significance of this should be obvious: 80% of the Church Fathers did not recognize that Peter was the rock on which Christ was building His church! Commenting on this in his book his book Two Paths: Papal Monarchy - Collegial Tradition, Michael Whelton points out

Many Roman Catholic apologists ignore the writings of the Early Church Fathers, who were equally well versed in scripture, and focus solely on their interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19. "And I say unto thee: That thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.... And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven...." To them it is so clear, what else could it mean? They will even delve into the Hold testament to find supporting evidence for the imagery  of the 'keys.' In doing so they lapse into the practice of 'Sola Scriptura' (by scripture alone) that they accuse Protestants of committing - by ignoring the mind of the Early Church in favor of their own subjecitve judgment. In addition, they anticipate their own conclusion in their initial premise when they associate any reference by Early Church Fathers to Peter as head of the apostles, the seat of Peter, Peter and the keys, etc., as pointing to evidence of Rome's supreme universal authority.
Michael Whelton's book shares similar examples of discrepancies between the teaching of the Catholic church and the teaching of the church fathers. He shows, for example, that even though the see of Rome was always believed to have special honor, the early church fathers believed that judicially Rome was on the same standing as the other patriarchal sees. Whelton also shows that Rome shed many of the traditions of the early church which have been preserved in the East, such as using leavened bread for the Eucharist (a custom the Roman Church kept for the first 800 years) and allowing children to partake during communion. His book is worth reading in full because it establishes that Protestants are not the only ones who constantly innovate: Roman Catholicism itself is one of the greatest innovations of church history.
Further Reading 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gnosticism at Work

Those who have been following my ongoing series on evangelicalism and Gnosticism will be interested to know that I recently published two more articles in this ongoing series. Both articles deal with attitudes towards work. I show that many of the assumptions that modern evangelicals hold about work are actually more Gnostic than Christian.

Should a Christian consider his secular job to be a zone of spiritual neutrality, or can even the most menial work be offered up to God?

In order to fully serve God, must a person go into full time ministry, or can we pursue our ordinary callings in a way which renders it as a ministry?
 
I have explored these and other questions in these two articles. In the process, I discuss the doctrine known as 'The Protestant Work Ethic' - an idea that can be found throughout the writings of the church fathers. To read my articles, click on the links below:



Friday, December 20, 2013

Jesus, Junk Food, and Christian Charity


Douglas Wilson’s writings are incredibly helpful, and on this blog I have often had occasion to quote him. But I do sometimes weary of Wilson continually defending junk food and stereotyping those who try to be healthy.

It is clear from Wilson's writings and statements over the past decade that he has an animus against any health care practice that is not mainstream, whether health food, chiropractic, naturopathy, home birth, etc.

When challenged about this with respect to health food, Wilson always responds that he doesn't actually have a problem with health food as such; rather, his target is a type of food idolatry. That sounds fine, until one looks closer to find out exactly what Wilson means when he refers to "food idolatry." For Wilson, the class of "food idolaters" doesn't just include a person who finds it difficult to receive hospitality when the food isn't up to a certain standard, or who goes around feeling guilty instead of thankful for his lunch, or who looks down on everyone else in the world who makes different food choices, or whose pursuit of health robs him of the joy of life, let alone the joy of eating. If Wilson was only attacking these types of attitudes, there wouldn't be a huge controversy about this in Moscow right now and I wouldn't be writing this post.

Rather, Wilson defines health food idolatry so broadly that it pretty much includes anyone who is really concerned about nutritional issues, organic farming, or are just really into healthy eating. Similarly, anyone who thinks God cares about what we eat is guilty of food idolatry within Wilson's calculus.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Argument of Tears

by Terrell Clemmons, guest blogger

 A typical crowd of tourists, seniors, and schoolchildren on field trips was mulling around the large lobby of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. when a young man, wearing full military dress and carrying a cello, walked toward a chair curiously placed in the center of the large room and sat down. He took up his bow in one hand, stretched his other arm to adjust the sleeve, and began playing with calm, expert finesse.

After the opening measures, another soldier musician approached with a standup bass and joined in. A small riser was brought out, and a graying maestro removed his overcoat and accepted the conductor’s baton from an assistant with a cordial salute. An oboe came in with the melody, followed by strings, brass, clarinets, flutes, even a harp.

Friday, December 13, 2013

How Attentive Reading Helps Relationships

In my article, 'Hollowing out the Habits of Attention (3)' I pointed out that when we read books, especially quality fiction, we empathize with the characters in the book so that their experiences become our experiences. We enter into a world very different from our own but which, through imagination, begins to feel just as real as our world.

A study conducted at Washington University’s Dynamic Cognition Laboratory found that attentive readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in the narrative as if it were really happening. This type of imaginative engagement with other people—in this case, fictional people—enriches the readers’ experience of the world outside the book. This is because the patient attentiveness required to read a literary novel, a play or a long poem requires us to exercise some of the same mental muscles that are employed when we are attentive to real people. In both fiction and healthy relationships, we need to be able to extend ourselves into the thoughts and feelings of others, no matter how different those thoughts and feelings may be from our own. We also need a capacity to accept complexity and tolerate ambiguity. This requires the same type of imaginative attentiveness that reading literary fiction can help us to cultivate.  

For relationships to be healthy, we need to know how to suspend what we think and put ourselves in the mind of our friend, even when we think our friend may be wrong. This doesn’t mean we have to pretend to agree with what the other person is saying, but at a minimum we should be able to appreciate where they are coming from, to listen to their heart, to imaginatively relate to experiences that may be far removed from our own. Empathy enables two people who are vastly different to share experiences, to participate in each other’s struggles, sorrows and joys. To be empathetic requires imagination, creativity, and what psychologists call emotional intelligence. 

In other words, healthy relationships require patient attentiveness. Healthy relationships require opening ourselves up to another, getting outside of ourselves and entering into the other person’s mind. How many divorces could have been prevented if the parties had only been willing to slow down and work at listening, really listening, to what their partner is trying to say? Such attentive listening is hard work. It is hard work because it requires attentiveness, just like the rewards of reading poetry, listening to classical music, or learning Latin require a similar type of patient attentiveness.

The general loss of attentiveness in our culture affects the set of expectations we bring to relationships, eroding our ability to empathize in this way. From fast food to immediate downloads to instant messaging, immediate gratification has become the norm. This makes patient and attentive listening a cognitively unnatural activity. Instead our brain enters into a condition that some researchers have described as “continuous partial attention.” The result is that our listening skills become significantly atrophied.

Media such as the i-touch, the i-phone, the android and even the internet itself, encourage distractedness, impatience and the kind of hurried and scattered focus that finds attentiveness to anything—including people we love—laborious and boring.

Developing the habits of mind necessary for reading good literary works reverses the tendency of our digital distractions and cultivates some of the same cognitive muscles we use when empathizing with others. 


Read more...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Liberation from Embodiment

A number of writers have recently been alerting evangelicals to ways in which their thinking has become captive to Gnostic-type ideas about the body. Instead of treating the body as something good, which is in the process of being redeemed (Rom 8:23), it is easy for Christians to slip into the trap of talking about the body as if it is a prison from which we must ultimately escape. (See the ongoing series we have been doing on Gnosticism and Evangelicalism.)

But it is not only in religious communities that we find these types of pessimistic approaches to embodiment. A theme that keeps reemerging in the wider secular culture of the West is an underlying angst concerning the body. Indeed, if current trends in transhumanism, technohumanism and postgenderism continue, Christians who understand about the goodness of creation may soon represent the last hold-out in affirming the goodness of the body.

This realization has led me to begin a series of articles with the Colson Center on some of the ways that Gnostic-type ideas towards the body have infected secular thinking. The first article in this series, 'Liberation from Embodiment' looks specifically at some of the ways that the goodness of the female body has been under attack from forces as diverse as radical feminism and modern advertizing. 


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