Exploring Four Myths About the Crusades

Back in Seminary I remember a Church History instructor warning us not to be “too defensive” of the Church when others point to our shortcomings. He said that the Church is so big and so old, that just about anything you can say probably has some truth to it. He went on to clarify that it didn’t mean that everything said about the Church was necessarily fair or set in proper context to be understood. Neither was it fair that the Church was often singled out. Nevertheless given the billions who have been Catholic over 2000 years, there are plenty of sinners and plenty of saints, lots of glory and lots that was gory. So be careful he said, “Never deny, seldom affirm, always distinguish.

Hence when we come to the Crusades, we have a bit of a balancing act. At one level, the usual pointing to this historical period with selective moral outrage, is a tired old attack on the Church, an attack, usually simplistic in its understanding, devoid of historical context, and quite one-sided. That said, there were surely excesses and gravely sinful acts that often come in the fog of any war, religious or not.

With that in mind I’d like to look at excerpts from article recently published over at First Principles, the Article is Entitled: Four Myths About the Crusades. The Author is Paul Crawford. In the excerpts that follow, his text is in bold, black italics. My comments are in red plain text. The full text of his lengthy and excellent article can be read by click the title above.

Myth #1: The crusades represented an unprovoked attack by Western Christians on the Muslim world.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and even a cursory chronological review makes that clear. In a.d. 632, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, North Africa, Spain, France, Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were all Christian territories. Inside the boundaries of the Roman Empire, which was still fully functional in the eastern Mediterranean, orthodox Christianity was the official, and overwhelmingly majority, religion. Outside those boundaries were other large Christian communities—not necessarily orthodox and Catholic, but still Christian. Most of the Christian population of Persia, for example, was Nestorian. Certainly there were many Christian communities in Arabia.

By a.d. 732, a century later, Christians had lost Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa, Spain, most of Asia Minor, and southern France. Italy and her associated islands were under threat, and the islands would come under Muslim rule in the next century. The Christian communities of Arabia were entirely destroyed in or shortly after 633, when Jews and Christians alike were expelled from the peninsula. Those in Persia were under severe pressure. Two-thirds of the formerly Roman Christian world was now ruled by Muslims.

What had happened?…The answer is the rise of Islam. Every one of the listed regions was taken, within the space of a hundred years, from Christian control by violence, in the course of military campaigns deliberately designed to expand Muslim territory….Nor did this conclude Islam’s program of conquest….Charlemagne blocked the Muslim advance in far western Europe in about a.d. 800, but Islamic forces simply shifted their focus…toward Italy and the French coast, attacking the Italian mainland by 837. A confused struggle for control of southern and central Italy continued for the rest of the ninth century and into the tenth. …[A]ttacks on the deep inland were launched. Desperate to protect victimized Christians, popes became involved in the tenth and early eleventh centuries in directing the defense of the territory around them…..The Byzantines took a long time to gain the strength to fight back. By the mid-ninth century, they mounted a counterattack….Sharp Muslim counterattacks followed…

In 1009, a mentally deranged Muslim ruler destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and mounted major persecutions of Christians and Jews….Pilgrimages became increasingly difficult and dangerous, and western pilgrims began banding together and carrying weapons to protect themselves as they tried to make their way to Christianity’s holiest sites in Palestine.

Desperate, the Byzantines sent appeals for help westward, directing these appeals primarily at the person they saw as the chief western authority: the pope, who, as we have seen, had already been directing Christian resistance to Muslim attacks….finally, in 1095, Pope Urban II realized Pope Gregory VII’s desire, in what turned into the First Crusade.

Far from being unprovoked, then, the crusades actually represent the first great western Christian counterattack against Muslim attacks which had taken place continually from the inception of Islam until the eleventh century, and which continued on thereafter, mostly unabated. Three of Christianity’s five primary episcopal sees (Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria) had been captured in the seventh century; both of the others (Rome and Constantinople) had been attacked in the centuries before the crusades. The latter would be captured in 1453, leaving only one of the five (Rome) in Christian hands by 1500. Rome was again threatened in the sixteenth century. This is not the absence of provocation; rather, it is a deadly and persistent threat, and one which had to be answered by forceful defense if Christendom were to survive.

It is difficult to underestimate the losses suffered by the Church in the waves of Muslim conquest. All of North Africa, once teeming with Christians, was conquered. There were once 500 bishops in North Africa. Now, even to this day, the Christian Church there exists only in ruins buried beneath the sand and with titular but non-residential bishops. All of Asia Minor, so lovingly evangelized by St. Paul, was lost. Much of Southern Europe was almost lost as well. It is hard to imagine any alternative to decisive military action in order to turn back waves of Muslim attack and conquest.

Myth #2: Western Christians went on crusade because their greed led them to plunder Muslims in order to get rich.

Again, not true. Few crusaders had sufficient cash both to pay their obligations at home and to support themselves decently on a crusade.” From the very beginning, financial considerations played a major role in crusade planning. The early crusaders sold off so many of their possessions to finance their expeditions that they caused widespread inflation. Although later crusaders took this into account and began saving money long before they set out, the expense was still nearly prohibitive.

One of the chief reasons for the foundering of the Fourth Crusade, and its diversion to Constantinople, was the fact that it ran out of money before it had gotten properly started, and was so indebted to the Venetians that it found itself unable to keep control of its own destiny. Louis IX’s Seventh Crusade in the mid-thirteenth century cost more than six times the annual revenue of the crown.

The popes resorted to ever more desperate ploys to raise money to finance crusades, from instituting the first income tax in the early thirteenth century to making a series of adjustments in the way that indulgences were handled that eventually led to the abuses condemned by Martin Luther.

In short: very few people became rich by crusading, and their numbers were dwarfed by those who were bankrupted. Most medieval people were quite well aware of this, and did not consider crusading a way to improve their financial situations.

Crawford states elsewhere, that plunder was often allowed or overlooked, when Christian armies conquered, in order that some bills could be paid. Sadly, plunder was commonly permitted in ancient times but was not unique to Christians. Here again, we may wish that Christian sentiments would have meant no plunder at all, but war is seldom orderly, and the motive of every individual solider cannot be perfectly controlled.

The bottom line remains, conducting a crusade was a lousy way to get rich or raise any money at all.

Myth #3: Crusaders were a cynical lot who did not really believe their own religious propaganda; rather, they had ulterior, materialistic motives.

This has been a very popular argument, at least from Voltaire on. It seems credible and even compelling to modern people, steeped as they are in materialist worldviews. And certainly there were cynics and hypocrites in the Middle Ages—medieval people were just as human as we are, and subject to the same failings.

However, like the first two myths, this statement is generally untrue, and demonstrably so. For one thing, the casualty rates on the crusades were usually very high, and many if not most crusaders left expecting not to return. At least one military historian has estimated the casualty rate for the First Crusade at an appalling 75 percent, for example.

But this assertion is also revealed to be false when we consider the way in which the crusades were preached. Crusaders were not drafted. Participation was voluntary, and participants had to be persuaded to go. The primary means of persuasion was the crusade sermon. Crusade sermons were replete with warnings that crusading brought deprivation, suffering, and often death….would disrupt their lives, possibly impoverish and even kill or maim them, and inconvenience their families.

So why did the preaching work? It worked because crusading was appealing precisely because it was a known and significant hardship, and because undertaking a crusade with the right motives was understood as an acceptable penance for sin….valuable for one’s soul. The willing acceptance of difficulty and suffering was viewed as a useful way to purify one’s soul

Related to the concept of penance is the concept of crusading as an act of selfless love, of “laying down one’s life for one’s friends.”

As difficult as it may be for modern people to believe, the evidence strongly suggests that most crusaders were motivated by a desire to please God, expiate their sins, and put their lives at the service of their “neighbors,” understood in the Christian sense.

Yes, and such concepts ARE difficult for modern Westerners to believe. Since we are so secular and cynical, the thought of spiritual motives strike us as implausible. But a great Cartesian divide, with its materialist reductionism,  separates the Modern West from the Middle Ages and Christian antiquity.  Those were days when life in this world was brutal and short, and life here was “a valley of tears” to be endured as a time of purification preparing us to meet God. Spiritual principles held much more sway than today.

Myth #4: The crusades taught Muslims to hate and attack Christians.

Muslims had been attacking Christians for more than 450 years before Pope Urban declared the First Crusade. They needed no incentive to continue doing so. But there is a more complicated answer here, as well.

The first Muslim crusade history did not [even] appear until 1899. By that time, the Muslim world was rediscovering the crusades—but it was rediscovering them with a twist learned from Westerners. In the modern period, there were two main European schools of thought about the crusades. One school, epitomized by people like Voltaire, Gibbon, and Sir Walter Scott, and in the twentieth century Sir Steven Runciman, saw the crusaders as crude, greedy, aggressive barbarians who attacked civilized, peace-loving Muslims to improve their own lot. The other school, more romantic, saw the crusades as a glorious episode in a long-standing struggle in which Christian chivalry had driven back Muslim hordes.

So it was not the crusades that taught Islam to attack and hate Christians. …Rather, it was the West which taught Islam to hate the crusades.

Yes, the strange self-loathing tendencies of the dying West do supply our detractors, and would-be destroyers, with ample reason to detest us.

I am interested in your thoughts. I don’t think it is necessary to vehemently defend the Church’s and the Christian West’s series of Crusades. There were many regrettable things that accompany any war. But fair is fair, there is more to the picture than many, with anti-Church agendas of their own, wish to admit.

And for those secularist and atheists who love to tout “how many have died as the result of religious wars and violence,” We do well to recall how many died in the 20th century for secular ideological reasons. Paul Johnson, the English Historian, in his book Modern Times, places the number at 1oo million.

Does this excuse even one person dying as the result of religious war? No. But fair is fair. Violence, war, conquest  and territorial disputes, are human problems not necessarily or only religious ones.

Painting: The Preaching of the Crusades form Wikipedia Commons

This video covers some of the Christian ruins in North Africa, including the See of St Cyprian of Carthage

Questioning the Questioners: Why Do You Not Honor Mary in Accordance With Scripture?

Most of us who are Catholics eventually get asked, “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” More often than not the question is not a real question it is a rhetorical question. A “rhetorical question,” is a “question” whose purpose is not to seek an answer, but, rather, to make a (usually hostile) point. For example the expression “Who do you think you are!?” is in the form of a question but it does not seek an answer. Instead it is meant as a rebuke. And so it usually is when we Catholics get asked the “question” Why do you worship Mary?” we’re usually aware that it is not a sincere question seeking a sincere answer. However, for those cases where an answer really is sought I might propose the following approach:

“Well, of course we don’t worship Mary since that would be a terrible sin. Worship belongs to God alone. We DO honor her though. After all, she is Jesus’ mother.

But let me ask you a question. Why in your church, do you NOT honor Mary at all? Doesn’t scripture say Every generation will call [Mary] blessed because God who is mighty has done great things for [her]? (Luke 1:48-49) It seems to me that we Catholics are fulfilling Scripture but that in your denomination you are not fulfilling or following it. So why don’t you honor her at all? Why don’t you call her blessed as the Bible says?”

Now stop there and wait for an answer. Don’t keep going. Just stop and wait. Have them answer for a change. We Catholics are always on the defensive, always in answer mode. But we ought to ask a few questions too. When asking, try to avoid a merely rhetorical or hostile tone. Try to allow this question to be genuine, respectful, one meant to provoke thought.

It is possible that many Protestants have never been asked this question or pondered an answer. Now it is also possible that your interlocutor will try to change the subject or evade an answer by piling on about Catholics but just repeat the question respectfully and ask for an answer. Remember your point is not to argue, be hostile or win an argument. Your point is to provoke thought and get a real answer. And even if the conversation ends badly or with no answer, you’ve planted a seed, a question that they will ponder even if they don’t admit it. Jesus often asked questions to provoke thought and conversion. I will be doing a post on this next week.

Another way to explain out devotion and love for Mary is that we are imitating Jesus. We love, honor, respect and entrust ourselves to her care because Jesus did all these things, and we want to be just like Jesus. Consider that the very Son of God, dwelt in Mary’s womb, nursed at her breasts, was held in her arms, sat on her lap and entrusted himself to her care. Our Lord could have chosen to enter our world in other ways. Perhaps He could simply have entered the world as a full grown man. The fact is that He freely chose Mary to be his mother and he was truly her Son. As her son he loved and honored her as any good son must and as her son he entrusted himself to her care. All of this serves to highlight Mary’s dignity and to show us how devotion to her is in perfect imitation of Jesus himself.

What more need we say: Jesus our Lord and God honors and loves Mary, and his very Scriptures sing her praises; so too His Angel Gabriel, Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit,  and countless saints. When we honor Mary we imitate the very Son of God and fulfill Holy Scripture. Certainly our Lord is pleased that we love and honor his mother.

Painting above by French artist William Bouguereau (19th Century)

How Can the Saints Hear Us? Because God is Able!

A common Evangelical protest against the Catholic practice of praying and interacting with the saints is that they “can’t hear us.” Those who disbelieve our practice often quote 1 Kings 8:39 which says, for you alone (O Lord) know the hearts of all men. Hence, according to this quote Saints, who are not God, cannot know our thoughts unless we speak them aloud.

This means, we must therefore speak them aloud. And this in turn ridiculed, or at least dismissed, by many Evangelicals who consider it absurd to think a saint way up in heaven would have adequate hearing to perceive us, way down here on earth talking to them. Further, even if they could hear us, how could they distinguish thousands or millions of people talking to them all at once? And so on, with these sorts of objections. To be fair, not every Evangelical shares all these objections nor do they always attempt to ridicule our practice. But objections and attitudes like this  are common enough to merit response.

The straight answer to the objections that saints cannot know our prayers due to lack of hearing, or inability to mind read, is set aside by Scripture itself which does speak of them as interacting with our prayers. More of this in a moment.

But some attention should also be paid to the highly naturalistic notions held by our critics, of the saints in heaven. To simply presume they “hear” in same way we do here on earth, or that their minds are operative in same way that ours are, or that they even experience time in the same serial way we do, are all highly questionable premises.

To begin with, the saints, through their more perfect union with Christ, ought not be presumed to experience their human faculties in exactly the same way as here on earth. Obviously their bodies have not yet risen, and hence they do not “hear” in the same manner as we do who still have bodies. Neither are their minds mediated through the physical brain as our is. Even when the trumpet shall sound and the bodies of the saints be restored to them, we need to understand that their humanity, body and soul, will be a glorified humanity. While we do not know all the aspects of a glorified humanity we will surely not have the forgetful and slow minds we have now. Neither ought we presume that our hearing will be limited as it is now.

So, to be clear, we ought not merely presume that the saints in heaven, even now, experience all the limits we do. They are caught up in Christ, and bound to Him more intimately and perfectly.

Secondly, the saints do not likely experience time like we do. Heaven is called, among other things in Scripture “eternity” or “eternal life.” Now eternity does not refer merely to the length of time or life, but also to the fulness of it. The fulness of time includes past, present and future, as one thing, in one moment. While we cannot be sure if the saints experience the “comprehensive now” as God does, we ought not presume that they experience time merely as we do either. Heaven is quite surely outside our earthly experience of time.

Hence, our understanding of heaven ought to include a mystical dimension and it is wrong to simply project our currently broken and fallen human condition on to the Saints in heaven or to presume them inside time exactly as we are.

Jesus rebukes the minimalists of his day – Regarding this tendency to make heavenly realities look either silly or untenable by projecting earthly categories there, Jesus had to rebuke the Sadducees of his day. They attempted to make heaven (which they rejected as a reality) look silly by projecting an earthly marriage scenario there of a woman who had seven husbands. Jesus said to them “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven (Mk 12:24-25). Thus, heaven is not like earth, and should not be reduced to it.  Nor are the souls in heaven presumed to be exactly the same as they are now.

Hence, to presume that Saints can hear us is not outlandish, for they are in Christ, and they are perfectly in communion with him in heaven. It is obviously Christ himself, then, who fosters our union with the Saints and their ability to remain in communion with us. For there is only one Body of Christ, and all the members are untied by the Head, who is Christ.

Now that the Saints do interact with us and present our prayers to God is stated in the Book of Revelation:

[T]he twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev 5:8)

Later we also see that the angels also collect the prayers of the saints:

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne (Rev 8:3).

“Saints” here is used in the common first Century biblical sense as meaning those on earth who have accepted Christ (cf Eph 1:1; Phil 1:1; 2 Cor 9:1; Phil 1:5; Rom 16:2 and many,many more), not merely in the modern Catholic sense as only the canonized saints in heaven.

And thus, the image and teaching here is that the Holy Ones in heaven collect the prayers of the saints on earth and present them to God, like incense.

That these prayers have dramatic effects is illustrated in the verses that follow in Rev 8:

The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (Rev 8:4-5)

There follow seven trumpet blasts with confer God’s judgment and justice.

So the saints in heaven do hear us, they do collect our prayers and present them God and their intercession has powerful effects, the text from 1 Kings above, not withstanding.

Those who merely deny this based on some human notion of implausibility I would argue come under the Lord’s judgement: Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? (Mk 12:24). For though it may seem implausible to human minds, our God is able.  And he reveals in Scripture that he not only able to empower the heavenly saints and angels in this regard, he is also most willing.

Here is a very good and brief video on this by Tim Staples

It is the Decision of the Holy Spirit and Us….On the Council of Jerusalem and the Catholicity of the Early Church


In the first reading at Today’s Mass we have recounted for us the Council of Jerusalem which scholars generally date to around the Year 50 AD. It was a pivotal moment in the history of the Church since it would set forth an identity for the Church that was independent from the culture of Judaism per se, and it would open wide the door of inculturation to the Gentiles. This surely had significant impact upon evangelization in the early Church.

Catholic Ecclesiology is Evident here: in that we have reflected here a very Catholic model of the Church in terms of how a matter of significant pastoral practice and doctrine is properly dealt with. In effect what we see here is the same model the Catholic Church has continued to use right to our own time. What is evident here, and in all subsequent Ecumenical Councils, is a gathering of the Bishops presided over by the Pope which considers a matter and may even debate it. If necessary, the Pope resolves debates where consensus cannot be reached. Once a decision is reached, a letter is issued to whole Church and the decision is considered binding.

All these elements are seen here, though somewhat in seminal form. Let’s consider this First Council of the Church in Jerusalem of 50 AD, beginning first with the remote preparation –

1. Bring in the Gentiles! – The Lord, just before he ascended gave the Apostles the great commission: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). Hence, the Gentiles are now to be summoned  and included in the ranks of discipleship and of the Church.

2. But it looks like the Church was mighty slow in beginning any outreach to the Gentiles. It is true that on the day of Pentecost people from every nation heard the Sermon of Peter and 3000 converted. By they were all Jews (Acts 2). In fact, it seems the Church did little, at first, to leave Jerusalem and go anywhere, let alone to the nations.

3. Perhaps as a swift quick in the pants the Lord allowed a persecution to break out in Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7). This caused the gospel to begin a northward trek into Samaria at least. Samaritans however are not usually considered Gentiles, since they were a groups that had intermarried with Jews in the 8th Century BC. There is also the Baptism of an Ethiopian Official but he too was a Jew.

4. Fifteen Years?! The time line of Acts is a bit speculative. However if we study it carefully and compare it to some of what Paul says (esp. in Galatians) it would seem that we are dealing with close to 12 or 15 years before the baptism of the first Gentile! If this is true then it is a disgrace. There were, of course, strong racial animosities between Jew and Gentile that may explain the slow response to Jesus’ commission. It explains, but does not excuse it.

5. Time for another kick in the pants. This time the Lord went to Peter who was praying on a rooftop in Joppa, and, by means of a vision, taught him that he was not to call unclean what God had called clean. The Lord then sent to Peter an entourage from Cornelius, a high Roman military official who was seeking baptism. He, of course was a Gentile. The entourage requests that Peter go with them to meet Cornelius at Cesarea. At first he is reluctant. But then recalling the vision (kick in the pants) that God had given him, he decides to go. In Cesarea he does something unthinkable. He, a Jew, enters the house of a Gentile. Peter has learned his lesson and been guided by God, as the first Pope, to do what is right and just. After a conversation with Cornelius, and the whole household, and signs from the Holy Spirit, Peter has them baptized. Praise the Lord! It was about time. (All of this is detailed in Acts 10)

6. It is a  fact that many were not happy with what Peter had done, and they confront him on it. Peter explains his vision, and also the manifestation of the Holy Spirit and insists that this is how it is going to be. While it is a true that these early Christians felt freer to question Peter than we would the Pope today, it is also a fact that what Peter has done is binding even if some of them don’t like it. What Peter has done will stand. Once Peter has definitively answered them, they reluctantly assent and declare somewhat cynically: “God has granted life giving repentance even to the Gentiles!” (Acts 11:19)

7. Trouble Brewing – So, the mission to the Gentiles is finally open. But that does not mean trouble is over. As Paul, Barnabas and others begin to bring in large numbers of Gentile converts, some among the Jewish Christians begin to object that  they were not like Jews, and began to insist that they must be circumcised and follow the whole Jewish Law; not just the moral precepts but also the cultural norms, kosher diet, purification rites etc. That is where we picked up the story in yesterday’s Mass.

8. The Council of Jerusalem – Luke is a master of understatement and says “Because there arose no little dissension and debate….” (Acts 15:2) it was decided to ask the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem to gather and consider the matter. So the apostles and some presbyters (priests) with them meet and,  of course,  Peter is there, as is James who was especially prominent in Jerusalem among the apostles, and would later become bishop there. Once again Luke rather humorously understates the matter by saying, “After much debate, Peter arose” (Acts 15:7).

In effect Peter arises to settle the matter since, (it would seem), that the apostles themselves were divided.  Had not Peter received this charge from the Lord? The Lord had prophesied: Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to sift you all like wheat but I have prayed for you Peter, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-32). Now Peter fulfills this text, as he will again, and every Pope after him. Peter clearly dismisses any notion that the Gentiles should be made to take up the whole burden of Jewish customs. Paul and Barnabas rise to support this. Then James (who it seems may have felt otherwise) rises to assent to the decision and asks that a letter be sent forth to all the Churches explaining the decision. He also asks for and obtains a few concessions.

So there it is, the First Council. And that Council, like all the Church-wide Councils that would follow, was a gathering of the bishops, in the presence of Peter who works to unite them. A decision is then made, and a decree, binding on the whole Church,  is sent out. Very Catholic actually. We have kept this Biblical model ever since. Our Protestant brethren have departed from it for they have no Pope to settle things when they dispute. They have split endlessly into tens of thousands of denominations and factions. When no one is pope every one is pope.

A final thought. Notice how the decree to the Churches is worded: It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us (Acts 15:28). In the end, we trust the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in matters of faith and morals. We trust that decrees and doctrines that issue forth from Councils of the Bishops with the Pope are inspired by and authored by the Holy Spirit Himself. And there it is right in Scripture, the affirmation that when the Church speaks solemnly in this way it is not just some bishops and the Pope as men, it is the Holy Spirit who speaks with them.

The Church – Catholic from the Start!

A Journey Home to the Catholic Faith and What We Can Learn.

A recent announcement of journey home to the Catholic Faith was made by the well known pro-life advocate Bryan Kemper. His announcement letter is posted below. Not only can we rejoice to have a fine and prophetic new member, but, in reading his letter, we can also see certain hallmarks that have led him to the Church. The things he mentions are also things others have mentioned. I would also like to discuss something he does NOT mention.

First here is the letter he sent to his supporters on his blog. I have taken the liberty of adding a few reflections which appear in plain text red.

Dear friends,

I know this may come as a shock to many of you; I am in shock in a way my self. I have spent the past 23 years living my life for Christ always wanting to serve Him and know His truth.

I have been a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for almost 10 years as I was so inspired by the liturgy and reverence I found there. I have also been in a constant journey for God’s truth, studying His Word as well as church history. After many, many years of resisting a calling that I tried to suppress I have finally felt the peace of God with my decision to join the Catholic Church. Please note his reference to being inspired by the liturgy and reverence in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I want to comment on that below.

I know that many of you will be confused, even concerned for me. I know that you will have many questions and even be tempted to try and dissuade me from this decision. While I will most certainly talk to you about what God is doing here, I will not be entering into any debates about this right now.

I want to let you know this is not made lightly; I fought against this for years. There are several things that led me to search and finally choose to go back to the Church. I will share a few things in brief here and would love to sit down in person some time with you if you want to peacefully discuss them in more detail.

Every true spiritual journey is marked by profound consideration and often painful discernment. He clearly has love for the traditions which have nourished and sustained him and cannot lightly leave that behind. I have made this journey with others who have joined the Catholic Church and found that their love and appreciation for what has sustained them and is an important  aspect of the gifts they bring to the Church. The Church is wonderfully enriched by the fact that they do not cast aside what they have received in the past, but rather that they transpose and apply it to the Catholic setting. For there is great zeal, love and knowledge of Scripture, a fine tradition of preaching, hymnody, an appreciation for a personal walk with the Lord, and countless other gifts in the Protestant traditions. We are indeed enriched by those who join us.

Church authority: There are simply thousands and thousands of denominations and every time someone disagrees with another teaching of their church they simply start a new one. The Catholic Church has had it’s teaching since the beginning of the Church in the scriptures. There is no way God can be happy with thousands of denominations or so-called non-denominational churches. It seems that when people disagree on doctrine it often results in another break off church. The fact is that current Christian teaching can differ so much between two churches that it really constitutes different religions and different Gods. There must be one established truth that God gave us, one that has remained from the time of Christ.

We have talked a lot about this in this blog. It is the chief problem with the Protestant approach. When no one is Pope, everyone is Pope and there are no real ways of resolving difficulties and the conflicts that inevitably happen when two or more human beings are together. One of the glories of the Catholic Church has been her integrity in terms of authority and unity in terms of doctrine.

There are, to be sure, squabbles among the faithful as to emphasis and direction. But when the problem is doctrinal, or the non-doctrinal debates become too divisive, we DO have a way of ultimately resolving it and remaining in a coherent unity.

Some of the older, main-line Protestant denominations were able to keep this for a time when Scripture’s authority and veracity were unquestioned. But in recent decades, the main-line denominations no longer agree on authority of Scripture in terms of its plain meaning, and the differing views have caused major ruptures in the Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian branches. It is most often the moral questions, such as homosexuality and abortion, that prove most problematic. And without Scripture, tradition and authority the severing into ever wider varieties is inevitable.

Mr. Kemper could not have said it better than when he speaks of there being one established truth that has remained intact since the time of Christ.

Pro-life and Contraception: There is only one church that has been consistent from the time of Christ to today on the teaching of pro—life and contraception. Before 1930 there was never a single Christian church in history to accept any form of contraception and today there is only one that absolutely has kept this Christian teaching and truth.

Praise God for this insight. The Catholic Church has often been excoriated for not keeping up with the times. But of course, as Mr. Kemper notes, this is not the role of the Church. Rather, she is to consistently hold to the truths that come to us from Christ through the Apostles. Though sorely tempted by her own members to update in terms of contraception and, to some extent, abortion, the Church has held firm to what she has received.

In terms of pro-life issues, you may recall that we discussed on this blog some time ago what David French, a well known Protestant author said of the Catholic Church: for almost forty years has been the beating heart of the American pro-life movement….One cannot spend five minutes with thoughtful Catholics without understanding how the defense of life is a fundamental and integral part of the DNA of the church. Since the defense of life is theologically-grounded, it is functionally and practically independent of any secular ideology. Life is not just an “issue,” for a Catholic; it is at the core of the Gospel. [1]

Yes, dedication to pro-life issues and holding firm on the teaching about contraception are two glories of the Church. And, it is important to see that this sort of prophetic stance is winning new members for us, members who bring great gifts and zeal with them. We ought not fear being prophetic and zealous lovers of life. God is both renewing us and blessing us with new members like Bryan Kemper.

Communion or the Eucharist: I have always believed that communion was more that just a symbol and in looking back at early church teaching it is crystal clear that this was taught from day one. St Ignatius of Antioch a student of John the Apostle taught on this and clarified it well.

Here too is the central glory of the Catholic Church, that we unvaryingly hold to the true presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I cannot tell you how many have come to the Church or returned to her on this count. The Scriptures could not be clearer on this point and, as Mr. Kemper notes, the Church Fathers also held it from day one. What a magnificent glory it is that we have Christ truly present in our tabernacles and truly receive him in Holy Communion. To remain devoted to Christ in the Eucharist is surely a necessary requirement for the Church if we want the Lord to bless us with new members.

These are just a few of the things that drew me back into the Catholic Church; however there is so much more. I was baptized Catholic as a child so the process is not as complicated for me. I will be starting RCIA classes and working towards confirmation.

I am asking my friends to pray for my family’s journey and me as I truly seek to be closer to Christ. My relationship with Christ is the most important thing in my life and I hope my friends will stand by me, as I grow closer to Him.

As for the work of Stand True; it will remain focused on educating, activating and equipping young to stand up for life and Christ. We have always been an organization that reaches out to and works with all Christians and we will remain true to that. A great work he is doing.

For Christ I stand,

Bryan Kemper

The original statement is found here: Journey Home

So, there is much to be grateful for here. Clearly the beauty, and the integrity of the Church on many issues continues to inspire new members to join us.

I would like to mention something Mr. Kemper did not say and ponder for a moment the possible meaning of it. You will note above that he said: I have been a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for almost 10 years as I was so inspired by the liturgy and reverence I found there. Among the things he did not list, as his reason for joining the Catholic Church, was the inspiration and reverence related to the liturgy. It may well be that he did not discuss this for the sake of brevity. But I wonder if we might not perhaps be willing to learn why the liturgical experience did not make the list?

The fact is that too much Catholic liturgy today comes across as neither inspiring nor reverent. There is nothing wrong with our liturgy in essence. It is the glorious Mass handed on to us by Christ and the Apostles. But the way we celebrate it in the typical Catholic parish is often problematic. It is rushed, sermons are poor and music is sometimes of questionable taste. Further, people dress casually, and sometimes act irreverently in the Church. Many too, seem bored and disengaged from what is going on. Clergy too often seem to celebrate in a perfunctory manner, and liturgical abuses sometimes taint the celebration.

In dealing with converts from the main-line denominations, one of the hurdles I have discovered they often have to clear is the question of liturgy. They come from liturgical traditions that are not as elaborate as the full Catholic Tradition. However, their traditions are marked by a noble simplicity that has engaged them well. There is a great tradition of hymn singing, and congregational involvement. There is also a tradition of fine preaching that includes a lengthier, teaching oriented sermon that fully develops the scriptural text. Their congregations tend to be smaller and the services less numerous. Community is more intimate and so forth. It is often a sacrifice for many of them to leave this and come to an often less cozy and reverent environment that predominates in many of our larger parishes. To be sure, Catholicism offers a wide variety of liturgical experiences and reverence is not easily defined as jsut one thing. But it ought to be noted that Mr. Kemper did not mention the reverent liturgies of the Church on his primary list. We might learn something from this.

Bryan Kemper’s entrance into the Church is something to rejoice in. Obviously he sees and appreciates something in the Church that has caused him to make what is a big step for him. Pray for him as he makes this transition. Further, we ought as Catholics, to rejoice in the prophetic witness of the Church and how many are still inspired to join. Something is going right here and we ought to be grateful at what the Lord is doing. Not only does the Church enrich and inspire others to membership in the Body of Christ, but the Church is also enriched by the gifts that others, like Bryan Kemper brings. Let us rejoice and give thanks.

Here is a video clip of Bryan’s Work:

Only Limited Freedom is True Freedom

One of the great paradoxes of freedom is that it really cannot be had unless we limit it. Absolute freedom leads to an anarchy wherein no is really free to act. Consider that we would not be free to drive if all traffic laws were ended. The ensuing chaos would making driving quite impossible, not mention dangerous. The freedom to drive, to come and go, depends on us limiting our freedom to merely do as we please and cooperate through obedience to agreed upon norms.

Right now I am writing you in English. I appreciate the freedom we have to communicate and debate. But my freedom to communicate with you is contingent on me limiting myself to the rules we call grammar and syntax. Were there no rules, I would lose my freedom to communicate with you. And you also would not be free to comprehend me. Consider these sentences:

  1. Jibberish not kalendar if said my you, in existential mode or yet.
  2. dasja, gyuuwe %&^% (*UPO(&, if gauy ga(&689 (*&(*)) !!

What, can’t you read? Clearly when I assert absolute or extreme freedom neither of us are more free. Rather we are more limited.

So the paradox of freedom is that we can only experience freedom by excepting constraints to our freedom. Without contraints and limits, we are hindered from acting freely.

Jesus and Freedom – Here too is an insight to what Jesus means when he says that If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  (John 8:31-32). There are many people today who excoriate the Church and the Scriptures as a limit to their freedom. Unfortunately many Catholics are also affected by this notion. To such as these, they say the Church is trying to “tell them what to do” and Christians are trying “to impose their values on the rest of us.”

Now of course the Church cannot really force anyone to do much of anything. But beyond this, notice that announcement of Biblical truth is said by many today to threaten freedom, not enhance it. But Jesus says just the opposite, it is the truth that sets us free. Now the truth is a set of propositions that limits us to some extent. If “A” is true then “not A” is false. I must accept the truth and base my life on it to enjoy its freeing power. And the paradoxical result  is that the propostions of the truth of God’s teaching do not limit our freedom so much as enhance it.

Image – As we have seen, absolute freedom is not really freedom at all. It is chaos wherein no one can really move.   Every ancient city had walls. But these were not so much prison walls, as defending walls. True, one had to limit himself  and stay within the walls to enjoy their protection. But within the walls there was great freedom, for one was not constantly fighting off enemies and distracted with a fearful vigilance. He was freed for other pusuits, but only within the walls.

Those who claim that the truth of the gospel limits their freedom might also consider that the world outside God’s truth shows itself to be far less than free. Addictions and compulsions in our society abound. Neuroses, and high levels of stress are major components of modern living. The breakdown of the family and the seeming inability of increasing numbers to establish and keep lasting commitments is quite significant. A kind of teenage obsession with sex is evident and the widespread sadness of STDs, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood (absent fathers)  and abortion are  its results. Addiction to wealth and greed (the insatiable desire for more) enslave many in a kind of financial bondage wherein they cannot really afford the lifestyle their passions demand, and they are unsatisfied and in deep debt. The so-called freedom of the modern world apart from the truth of the Gospel is far from evident. These bondages also extend into the members of the Church to the extent that we do not seriously embrace the truth and base our lives upon it. The Catechism says rather plainly:

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin.” (CCC # 1733)

In the end, the paradox proves itself. Only limited freedom is true freedom. Demands for absolute freedom lead only hindered freedom and outright slavery.

This video is very creative indeed. It shows a “Jibberish interview” which illustrates how we are free to communicate only within the contraints of grammar and rules of language.

What Will Our Resurrected Bodies Be Like?

In today’s first reading at Mass St Paul writes to the Philippians of the glory that our currently lowly bodies will one day enjoy:

He will change our lowly body  to conform with his glorified Body by the power that enables him also  to bring all things into subjection to himself. (Phil 3:19)

I once spoke with an older woman who wasn’t all that pleased to hear that her body was going to rise and be joined again to her soul: “Oh, Father, you don’t mean this old decrepit body?! If this body has to rise I am hoping for an improved model!”

Yes! I think most of us can relate to the need that our current lowly bodies will be improved. And they will surely be. Notice how the passage above says, that these lowly, often weak, diseased, and often over-weight bodies will be changed and reflect the glory of the resurrected body of Jesus. Yes, this old general issue clunker that I’m currently experiencing is going to be upgraded to a luxury model. We’re headed for first class.

In this month of November when we recall the four last things: Death, judgment, heaven and hell, we ought to consider for a moment what scripture and tradition have to say to us about what our resurrected bodies will be like.

 Now an important starting point in discussing this matter is a little humility. The fact is, a lot of what we are going to say here is speculation. But, it is not WILD speculation. It is rooted in Scripture to be sure. However, Scripture is describing things that are somewhat mysterious and difficult to reduce to words. Further, Scripture does not always elaborate on things which are said. Where we might wish for more details, none are given. Sometimes too, we infer qualities of the resurrected body based only on scriptural texts whose main purpose is not so much to describe the resurrected body. Rather, their purpose is to set forth the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. For example, Jesus appears and disappears at will in a room though the doors are locked. The point of the text is to tell us he appeared, not necessarily that the resurrected body has something we have come to call “agility” (see below). Hence the text does not elaborate on this point and we are left to infer things about Jesus resurrected body and then apply it to our own. This is not wrong, for Paul above says that our resurrected bodies will have qualities that conform to Jesus’ resurrected body . But the point is that the biblical texts do not elaborate on this or other qualities in a detailed manner and so, we are left to speculate and infer some of what we know.

St. John the Apostle expresses some of the humility we should bring to this discussion:

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be like. But We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. (1 John 3:2)

I do not interpret John to mean we know nothing, for in so doing, he would negate other Scriptures. But I interpret him to mean that we do not fully grasp the meaning of what we are discussing,  and that much of it is mysterious. Something is known and revealed but much more of it is unknown and far beyond what we have yet experienced.

With the need for humility in mind let’s consider some of what we might be able to say of the qualities of a resurrected body. Perhaps it is well that we start with the most thorough passage in the New Testament on this subject and then list the traditional seven qualities of a resurrected body.

St. Paul writes of the resurrected body in First Corinthians 15:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body…..The splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another……The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.  If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man…..Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—  in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”(1 Cor 15:35-55 selectae).

Now using this passage and others we can distinguish seven traditional qualities of a resurrected body. Here we will allow our source to be the Summa of St. Thomas. You can click on each quality (in blue) to read more a the NewAdvent  Summa online.

1. Identity – What this means essentially is that the very same body that falls in death will rise to be glorified. We cannot claim that we will get a different body, but rather, that our current body will rise and be glorified. St. Thomas says, For we cannot call it resurrection unless the soul return to the same body, since resurrection is a second rising, and the same thing rises that falls: wherefore resurrection regards the body which after death falls rather than the soul which after death lives. And consequently if it be not the same body which the soul resumes, it will not be a resurrection, but rather the assuming of a new body (Supl, Q 79.1).

This does not mean that the body will necessarily be identical in every way. As St. Paul says above, are current bodies are like the seed. And just as a seed does not have all the qualities of the mature plant, but does have all these qualities in seed form. So too our body is linked to our resurrected body causally and essentially though not all the qualities of the resurrected body are currently operative. Again, the Summa states: A comparison does not apply to every particular, but to some. For in the sowing of grain, the grain sown and the grain that is born thereof are neither identical, nor of the same condition, since it was first sown without a husk, yet is born with one: and the body will rise again identically the same, but of a different condition, since it was mortal and will rise in immortality. (Ibid).

Scripture attests that the same body that dies will also rise. Job said, And after my flesh has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another (Job 19:26-27). And to the Apostles, shocked at his resurrection Jesus said, Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have (Luke 24:39).

Hence the same body rises and so there is continuity. But there is also development and a shining forth of a new glory and capabilities that our bodies do not currently enjoy.

2. Integrity – We will retain all of the parts of our current bodies. Now this means every physical part of our body, even the less noble parts such as intestines etc. In the Gospel Jesus plainly ate even after the resurrection. He ate a fish before them (Luke 24:43). He also ate with the Disciples in Emmaus (Luke 24:30). He ate breakfast with them at the lake shore (Jn 21:12). Hence it follows that even less noble parts of our body will rise for eating and digestion are still functions of a resurrected body. Now Thomas argues (I think rightly) that food will not be necessary to the resurrected body (supl 81.4). But it is clearly possible to eat, for Christ demonstrates it.

St. Thomas reasons that every aspect of our bodies will rise since the soul is the form of the body. That is, the body has the faculties it has due to some aspect of the soul. The soul has something to say and hence the body has the capacity to talk and write and engage in other forms of communication. The soul has the capacity to do detailed work and hence the body has complex faculties such as delicate and nimble fingers, arms and so forth, to carry out this work. Now body is thus apt for the capacities of the soul, though now imperfectly, but then even more perfectly. (cf Summa supl. Q. 80.1).

At some level it seems we have to suspend our speculation and keep it within limits.  The Summa goes into matters which I think are highly speculative and you can click on the blue word integrity above to read these speculations. But personally I think we should refrain from trying ask questions about whether hair and nails will grow and what bodily fluids will still be necessary and why. Will latrines be needed in heaven or will food be perfectly absorbed and nothing wasted? etc. We just have to stop at a certain point and say we just have no business knowing this stuff and it is purely speculative to discuss it. The bottom line is that, yes the Body shall rise, whole and complete. Its functions will be perfected and perfectly apt for the soul in a way beyond what they are now. But as to the intimate details, we ought to realize that humilty is the best posture.

3. Quality – Our bodies will be youthful and will retain our original gender. Now youthful here does not necessarily mean 18-22. Note that in the Philippians text that began this post, Paul says that our glorified bodies will be conformed to Christ’s glorified body. Now his body rose at approximately 30 – 33 of physical age. Elsewhere St. Paul exhorts Christians to persevere, Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ (Eph 4:13). Hence it would seem that Christ’s resurrected body is the perfect age.

St Augustine also speculates, that Christ rose again of youthful age,….about the age of thirty years. Therefore others also will rise again of a youthful age  (cf De Civ. Dei xxii).

St. Thomas further notes: Man will rise again without any defect of human nature, because as God founded human nature without a defect, even so will He restore it without defect. Now human nature has a twofold defect. First, because it has not yet attained to its ultimate perfection. Secondly, because it has already gone back from its ultimate perfection. The first defect is found in children, the second in the aged: and consequently in each of these human nature will be brought by the resurrection to the state of its ultimate perfection which is in the youthful age, at which the movement of growth terminates, and from which the movement of decrease begins. (Supl Q. 81.1)

Further,  since gender is part of human perfection, it will pertain to all to rise according to the gender we are now. Other qualities such as height, hair color and other such diverse things will also be retained, it would seem,  since this diversity is part of man’s perfection.

Here too we have to realize that merely picturing Jesus as a 33 year old guy is not sufficient. All the resurrection appearances make it clear that his appearance was somehow changed, though also recognizable,  and this is a mystery. Further the heavenly description of Jesus is far from simple to decode in manners of age and appearance:

and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Rev 1:12-18)

Hence we must avoid over-simplifications when it comes to speaking of how our resurrected bodies will appear. We cannot simply project current human realities into heaven and think we understand what a resurrected body will look like in terms of age, stature, and other physical qualities. They are there but they are transposed to a higher level.

4. Impassability – We will be immune from death and pain. Scripture states this clearly:  The dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Cor 15:52-53). And again, He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  (Rev 21:4). Thomas goes on at some length and you can click on the blue word impassibility to read more. But for here let the scriptural reference suffice

5. Subtlety – Our bodies will be free from the things that restrain them now. Subtlety refers to the capacity of the resurrected body to be completely conformed to the capacities of the soul. St Thomas says of this quality,  the term “subtlety” has been transferred to those bodies which are most perfectly subject to their form, and are most fully perfected thereby….For just as a subtle thing is said to be penetrative, for the reason that it reaches to the inmost part of a thing, so is an intellect said to be subtle because it reaches to the insight of the intrinsic principles and the hidden natural properties of a thing. In like manner a person is said to have subtle sight, because he is able to perceive by sight things of the smallest size: and the same applies to the other senses. Accordingly people have differed by ascribing subtlety to the glorified bodies in different ways. (Supl. Q. 83.1)

In other words, the Body is perfected because the soul is. And the body is now fully conformed to the soul. Currently in my lowly body, I may wish to go to Vienna, Austria in a few moments to hear an opera,  but my body cannot pull that off. It does not currently pertain to my body to be able to instantly be somewhere else on the planet. I have to take time to get there and exert effort. However it will be noticed that Jesus could appear and disappear in a room despite the closed doors. Although, before his resurrection he had to take long physical journeys,  now he can simply be where he wants (cf John 19:20, 26). This quality is very closely related to agility which we consider next.

6. Agility – We will have complete freedom of movement, our souls will direct our bodies without hindrance.  St Thomas says, The glorified body will be altogether subject to the glorified soul, so that not only will there be nothing in it to resist the will of the spirit…..from the glorified soul there will flow into the body a certain perfection, whereby it will become adapted to that subjection: …Now the soul is united to body not only as its form, but also as its mover; and in both ways the glorified body must be most perfectly subject to the glorified soul.  We have already referred to the capacity of Jesus’ in his glorified body to anywhere at once and not be hindered by locked doors etc.    Consider too these description of the agility of the resurrected body:

  1. As they [on the road to Emmaus] talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; (Luke 24:15)
  2. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus, and he disappeared from their sight. (Luke 24:31)
  3. While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, Peace be with you (Luke 24:36)

7. Clarity – The glory of our souls will be visible in our bodies.  We will be beautiful and radiant. It is written in the Scriptures  “The just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” (Matthew 13:43) . And again: “The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds.” (Wisdom 3:7). And again, The body in sown in dishonor, it shall rise in glory. (1 Cor 15:43).

So, rejoice! The Lord is going to take these lowly bodies of our and change them to conform with his own body. We’re going to upgrade to an improved model to be sure. And in your glorified body you won’t have to take all this time to read this post, you’ll just know it. A long post to be sure. I am posting it in PDF form as well in case you want to print it our and read it. You can get it here: What Will Our Resurrected Bodies Be Like

99 & 1/2 Won’t Do – A Meditation on Purgatory

I have blogged before on Purgatory. For example here: Purgatory – Biblical and Reasonable. I have also provided a PDF document on the Biblical roots of the teaching here: PDF Document on Purgatory .

On this Feast of All Souls I want to reflect on Purgatory as the necessary result of a promise. Many people think of purgatory primarily in terms of punishment, but it is also important to think of it in terms of  promise, purity and perfection. Some of our deceased brethren are having the promises to them perfected in purgatory. In the month of November we are especially committed to praying for them and know by faith that our prayers are of benefit to them.

What is the Promise which points to Purgatory? Simply stated, Jesus Made the promise in Matt 5:48: You, Therefore, must be perfect as you Heavenly Father is perfect. Now in this promise is an astonishing declaration of our dignity. We are to share in the very nature and perfection of God. This is our dignity:  that we are called to reflect and possess the very glory and perfection of God.

St. Catherine of Siena was gifted by the Lord to see a heavenly soul in the state of grace and her account of it is related in her Dialogue. It is here summarized In the Sunday School Teacher’s Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism:

The Soul in the State of Grace– Catherine of Siena was permitted by God to see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace. It was so beautiful that she could not look on it; the brightness of that soul dazzled her. Blessed Raymond, her confessor, asked her to describe to him, as far as she was able, the beauty of the soul she had seen. St. Catherine thought of the sweet light of that morning, and of the beautiful colours of the rainbow, but that soul was far more beautiful. She remembered the dazzling beams of the noonday sun, but the light which beamed from that soul was far brighter. She thought of the pure whiteness of the lily and of the fresh snow, but that is only an earthly whiteness. The soul she had seen was bright with the whiteness of Heaven, such as there is not to be found on earth. ” My father,” she answered. “I cannot find anything in this world that can give you the smallest idea of what I have seen. Oh, if you could but see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace, you would sacrifice your life a thousand times for its salvation. I asked the angel who was with me what had made that soul so beautiful, and he answered me, “It is the image and likeness of God in that soul, and the Divine Grace which made it so beautiful.” [1].

Yes, this is our dignity and final destiny if we are faithful to God.

So, I ask you, “Are you there yet?” God has made you a promise. But what if it is not yet fulfilled and you were to die today without the divine perfection you are promised yet completed? I can only say for myself that, if I were to die today, as far as I know I am not aware of mortal sin. But I am also aware of not being perfect. I am not even close to being humanly perfect, let alone having the perfection of the heavenly Father!

But Jesus made me a promise: You must be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. And the last time I checked, Jesus is a promise keeper!. St. Paul says, May God who has begun a good work in you bring it to completion. (Phil 1:6).  Hence, If I were to die today, Jesus would need to complete a work that he has begun in me. By God’s grace, I have come a mighty long way. But I have a long way to go. God is very holy and his perfection is beyond imagining.

Yes, there are many things in us that need purging. Sins, and attachments to sin. Worldly clingings, and those rough edges to our personality. Likewise most of us carry with us hurts, regrets, sorrows and disappointments. We cannot take any of this to heaven with us. It wouldn’t be heaven. So the Lord, who is faithful to his promise, will purge all of this from us. The Book of Revelation speaks of Jesus ministering to the dead in that he will wipe every tear from their eyes  (Rev 21:4).  1 Corithians 3:13-15 speaks of us as passing through fire in order that our works be tested and that what is good may be purified and what is worldly may be burned away. Job said, But he knows the way that I take; and when he has tested me, I will come forth as pure gold (Job 23:10).

Purgatory has to be – Yes, gold, pure gold, refined, perfect and pure gold. Purgatory has to be if God’s promises are to hold. The Protestants have no place for Purgatory because they interpret our perfection merely to be a legally declared perfection. Classical Protestantism speaks of an “imputed righteousness.”  Imputed righteousness is  a righteous that is merely said of us but is not actually so. Luther thought of us as a dung hill, completely depraved, and God covered us with his righteousness like snow on the surface, but we were still dung underneath. For Luther we merely have declared of us a justitia aliena (an alien justice). But Catholic Theology has always taken God seriously on his promise that we would actually be perfect as the Father is perfect. The righteousness is Jesus’ righteousness, but it actually transforms us and changes us completely in the way that St. Catherine describes above. It is a real righteousness, not merely imputed, not merely declared of us by inference. It is not an alien justice, but a personal justice, by the grace of God.

Esse quam videri – Purgatory makes sense because perfection promised us is real: Esse quam videri (To be rather than to seem). We must actually be purged of the last vestiges of imperfection, worldliness, sin and sorrows. And, having been made perfect by the grace of God, we are able to enter heaven of which Scripture says, Nothing impure will ever enter it (Rev 21:27). And again, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the souls of the just made perfect (Heb 12:22-23).

How could it be anything less? – Indeed, the souls of the just made perfect. How could it be anything less if Jesus died to accomplish it for us?  Purgatory makes sense based on the promise of Jesus and the power of his blood to accomplished complete and total perfection for us. This is our dignity, this is our destiny. Purgatory is about promises not mere punishments. There’s an old Gospel hymn that says, “O Lord I’m running, trying to make a hundred. Ninety-nine and half won’t do!”

That’s right, 99 1/2 won’t do. Nothing less than 100 is possible since we have the promise of Jesus and the wonder working power of the precious blood of the Lamb. For most, if not all of us, purgatory has to be.