Dr. Martin Luther King’s Refutation of Atheistic Materialism

I am reposting this article since we are discussing it on EWTN’s Morning Glory radio show.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we commemorate today, is best known as a civil rights leader who worked to end racial injustice, but he had other things to say as he preached each Sunday, first in his own assembly and later as he spoke around the country.

Among his recorded sermons is one in which Dr. King addressed the problem of unbelief, of materialism and atheism. His reflections are well worth pondering today because the problem is even more widespread now than it was when he made these remarks in 1957. A complete transcript of the sermon is available here: The Man Who Was a Fool.

In this sermon, Dr. King commented on Jesus’ parable of the wealthy man who had a huge harvest and, instead of sharing it, just built bigger barns to hold the excess. The Lord called him a fool for thinking that his material wealth could provide security.

Following are excerpts from this sermon, with Dr. King’s words shown in bold, black italics and my comments displayed in plain red text. After discussing several reason why the man was a fool, Dr. King said,

Jesus [also] called the rich man a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on God. He talked as though he unfolded the seasons and provided the fertility of the soil, controlled the rising and the setting of the sun, and regulated the natural processes that produce the rain and the dew. He had an unconscious feeling that he was the Creator, not a creature.

Having discovered the inner realities of many processes, the materialistic atheist fails to ask more fundamental questions such as “Where does the cosmos ultimately come from?” and “What is the ultimate destiny of all things?” Having found some answers, he mistakes them for the ultimate answers; they are not.

There is no problem with a scientist saying that these sorts of questions lie beyond science, that science is only focused on material and efficient causality. Each discipline does have its area of focus. The error of scientism is in its claims that science alone explains all reality; it does not.

The usual response of those who ascribe to scientism (not all scientists do) to questions that science cannot answer is to dismiss them or to say that one day science will find an answer. When we, who are obviously creatures and contingent beings, dismiss our Creator, we are displaying either hardness of heart or a form of madness. Such a dismissal is neither rational nor reasonable.

This man-centered foolishness has had a long and oftentimes disastrous reign in the history of mankind. Sometimes it is theoretically expressed in the doctrine of materialism, which contends that reality may be explained in terms of matter in motion, that life is “a physiological process with a physiological meaning,” that man is a transient accident of protons and electrons traveling blind, that thought is a temporary product of gray matter, and that the events of history are an interaction of matter and motion operating by the principle of necessity.

Dr. King describes here the problem of reductionism, in which things are reduced to matter alone and attributed entirely to material causes. This view holds that even concepts such as justice, meaning, and beauty must somehow be explained materially in terms of their cause. The human soul that knows immaterial things does mediate its thoughts through the brain and the central nervous system, but it does not follow that the medium is the cause. It does not pertain to matter to be the cause of what is spiritual.

Having no place for God or for eternal ideas, materialism is opposed to both theism and idealism. This materialistic philosophy leads inevitably into a dead-end street in an intellectually senseless world. To believe that human personality is the result of the fortuitous interplay of atoms and electrons is as absurd as to believe that a monkey by hitting typewriter keys at random will eventually produce a Shakespearean play. Sheer magic!

Many atheists think they have solved this conundrum, but I think that they “solve” it with a set of assumptions so outlandish and unproven that it requires far more “faith” to accept them than to believe in an intelligent designer and creator.

The statistical possibility that things could come together “by chance” to form complex life—let alone intelligent life—and not just once but at least twice (for reproduction’s sake) is minuscule! (As Dr. King says, “Sheer magic!”) Those who demand we accept this explanation are far more credulous than are believers, who observe the intricate design of creation and conclude (reasonably) that there is an intelligent creator.

It is much more sensible to say with Sir James Jeans, the physicist, that “the universe seems to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine,” or with Arthur Balfour, the philosopher, that “we now know too much about matter to be materialists.” Materialism is a weak flame that is blown out by the breath of mature thinking. Exactly! The universe shouts its design and intelligence.

Another attempt to make God irrelevant is found in non-theistic humanism, a philosophy that deifies man by affirming that humanity is God. Man is the measure of all things. Many modern men who have embraced this philosophy contend, as did Rousseau, that human nature is essentially good. Evil is to be found only in institutions, and if poverty and ignorance were to be removed everything would be all right. The twentieth century opened with such a glowing optimism. Men believed that civilization was evolving toward an earthly paradise.

The Catholic faith defines this error as utopianism and pseudo-messianism.

Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism (Catechism of the Catholic Church #675-676).

We all know what a bloodbath the 20th century became—so much for man being his own measure!

Herbert Spencer skillfully molded the Darwinian theory of evolution into the heady idea of automatic progress. Men became convinced that there is a sociological law of progress which is as valid as the physical law of gravitation. Possessed of this spirit of optimism, modern man broke into the storehouse of nature and emerged with many scientific insights and technological developments that completely revolutionized the earth. The achievements of science have been marvelous, tangible and concrete. …

[But] Man’s aspirations no longer turned Godward and heavenward. Rather, man’s thoughts were confined to man and earth. And man offered a strange parody on the Lord’s Prayer:

“Our brethren which art upon the earth, Hallowed be our name. Our kingdom come. Our will be done on earth, for there is no heaven.”

Those who formerly turned to God to find solutions for their problems turned to science and technology, convinced that they now possessed the instruments needed to usher in the new society.

Scripture says, Claiming to be wise they became fools and their senseless minds were darkened (Rom 1:22).

Then came the explosion of this myth. It climaxed in the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and in the fierce fury of fifty-megaton bombs. Now we have come to see that science can give us only physical power, which, if not controlled by spiritual power, will lead inevitably to cosmic doom.

Atheists are forever pointing out how many lives were lost in the name of religion. However, those numbers are not even close to those claimed in the bloodbath ushered in by atheistic materialists.

The words of Alfred the Great are still true: “Power is never a good unless he be good that has it.” We need something more spiritually sustaining and morally controlling than science. It is an instrument that, under the power of God’s spirit, may lead man to greater heights of physical security, but apart from God’s spirit, science is a deadly weapon that will lead only to deeper chaos. Make it plain, Dr. King!

Why fool ourselves about automatic progress and the ability of man to save himself? We must lift up our minds and eyes unto the hills from whence comes our true help. Then, and only then, will the advances of modern science be a blessing rather than a curse. Without dependence on God our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest night. Unless his spirit pervades our lives, we find only what G.K. Chesterton called “cures that don’t cure, blessings that don’t bless, and solutions that don’t solve.” “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Notice that Dr. King called upon two Catholic intellectuals (St. Alfred the Great and G.K. Chesterton) to be his witnesses.

Unfortunately, the rich man [in the parable] did not realize this. He, like many men of the twentieth century, became so involved in big affairs and small trivialities that he forgot God. He gave the finite infinite significance and elevated a preliminary concern to ultimate standing. After the rich man had accumulated his vast resources of wealth—at the moment when his stocks were accruing the greatest interest and his palatial home was the talk of the town—he came to that experience which is the irreducible common denominator of all men, death.

At every funeral I say to the mourners, “You are going to die.” Then I tell them that we must get ready, not with more things but with more God.

The fact that he died at this particular time adds verve and drama to the story, but the essential truth of the parable would have remained the same had he lived to be as old as Methuselah. Even if he had not died physically, he was already dead spiritually. The cessation of breathing was a belated announcement of an earlier death. He died when he failed to keep a line of distinction between the means by which he lived and the ends for which he lived and when he failed to recognize his dependence on others and on God.

May it not be that the “certain rich man” is Western civilization? Rich in goods and material resources, our standards of success are almost inextricably bound to the lust for acquisition.

The means by which we live are marvelous indeed. And yet something is missing. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers. Our abundance has brought us neither peace of mind nor serenity of spirit.

An Oriental writer has portrayed our dilemma in candid terms:

“You call your thousand material devices ‘labor-saving machinery,’ yet you are forever ‘busy.’ With the multiplying of your machinery you grow increasingly fatigued, anxious, nervous, dissatisfied. Whatever you have, you want more; and wherever you are you want to go somewhere else. You have a machine to dig the raw material for you, a machine to manufacture [it], a machine to transport [it], a machine to sweep and dust, one to carry messages, one to write, one to talk, one to sing, one to play at the theater, one to vote, one to sew, and a hundred others to do a hundred other things for you, and still you are the most nervously busy man in the world. Your devices are neither time-saving nor soul-saving machinery. They are so many sharp spurs which urge you on to invent more machinery and to do more business.” So true!

…The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided man. Like the rich man of old, we have foolishly minimized the internal of our lives and maximized the external. We have absorbed life in livelihood.

Yes, we have maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum.

We will not find peace in our generation until we learn anew that “a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses,” but in those inner treasuries of the spirit which “no thief approaches, neither moth corrupts.” Our hope for creative living lies in our ability to re-establish the spiritual ends of our lives in personal character and social justice. Without this spiritual and moral reawakening we shall destroy ourselves in the misuse of our own instruments. Our generation cannot escape the question of our Lord: What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world of externals—airplanes, electric lights, automobiles, and color television—and lose the internal—his own soul? Amen!


Purgatory is Based on a Promise of Jesus’

All Souls' Day by Jakub Schikaneder, 1888
All Souls’ Day by Jakub Schikaneder, 1888

I have blogged before on Purgatory. Here is a link to one of those blogs: Purgatory – Biblical and Reasonable. I have also written more extensively on its biblical roots 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 consider it in terms of promise, purity, and perfection. Some of our deceased brethren are having the promises made to them perfected in Purgatory. In the month of November we are especially committed to praying for them and we know by faith that our prayers are of benefit to them.

What is the promise that points to Purgatory? Simply stated, Jesus made the promise in Matthew 5:48: You, therefore, must be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. 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: 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. Her account of it is related in her Dialogue, and is summarized in the Sunday School Teacher’s Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism:

The Soul in the State of GraceCatherine 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 colors 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 that promise has not yet been fulfilled and you were to die today, without the divine perfection you have been promised having been completed? I can only speak for myself and say that if I were to die today, though I am not aware of any mortal sin, I also know that I am not perfect. I am not even close to being humanly perfect, let alone having the perfection of our 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 also 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: sin, attachment to sin, clinging to worldly things, 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 with us to Heaven. If we did, 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 Corinthians 3:13-15 speaks of us as passing through fire in order that our works be tested so that what is good may be purified and what is worldly may be burned away. And 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—gold, pure gold; refined, perfect, pure gold. Purgatory has to be, if God’s promises are to hold.

Catholic theology has always taken seriously God’s 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. 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 the perfection promised to 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 sorrow. 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 Jesus’ promise and on the power of His blood to accomplish complete and total perfection for us. This is our dignity; this is our destiny. Purgatory is about promises, not mere punishment. There’s an old Gospel hymn that I referenced in yesterday’s blog for the Feast of All Saints that says, “O Lord I’m running, trying to make a hundred. Ninety-nine and a half won’t do!”

That’s right, ninety-nine and a half won’t do. Nothing less than a hundred is possible because we have Jesus’ promise and the wonderful working power of the precious Blood of the Lamb. For most, if not all of us, Purgatory has to be.

If No One is Pope, Everyone is Pope. A Reflection on the Unitive Dimension of the Pope’s Office and Charism

popeFrancis-blogadw-placeholderToday we welcome Pope Francis to the United States. In so doing, we welcome more than just a popular public figure. We welcome someone whom the Lord prays for in a very special manner. Simon Peter and his successors enjoy a special charism to unite us, by the Lord’s prayer and grace. Let’s look at the scriptural foundation of this prayer and charism and see how essential the office of the pope is for us.

One day, near the final ascent to Jerusalem, the Lord warned of a fundamental problem that the Church would face: disunity. He turned to Simon Peter and said of the Twelve,

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you all that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-32).

To “sift like wheat” is to divide, and Satan would work hard at it in order to divide the apostles, and the Church with them. The debate about who was the greatest only served to show what a mess we human beings, when left to our own devices, will make of something.

Yes, Jesus plainly says that the devil is going to work hard to divide you. And Jesus’ plan is not to write a book and then just hope that everyone follows it and interprets it in the same way. His plan is not to pray that they all work out their differences.

Jesus’ plan is to pray for one man, Simon Peter. Now Peter is not invisible, nor do his words require interpretation. For if anyone wants to ask, “What do you mean by this?” he can just go right up to Peter and say, “Peter, what do you mean by this?” And the real Peter can answer.

So, the Lord’s plan for unity is to have one visible man; one living, breathing source of unity. The Lord will pray for him; thus we can be assured of right outcomes in matters of faith and morals if we follow Peter (and his successors, the popes) in matters that might divide us.

Peter fulfilled this task of unity well and consistently, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, the history of the early Church. He rose to settle the question of Judas’ successor (Acts 1:15ff). He preached the first public sermon (Acts 2). He was inspired in a dream and then baptized the first Gentile converts (Acts 10). He arose at the Council of Jerusalem to settle the dispute between the “Party of James” and Paul, Barnabas, and others about Gentile converts (Acts 15).

Yes, Peter strengthened and unified the brethren. This does not mean that he did so without sin. On one occasion St. Paul even had to rebuke Peter (cf Gal 2). For though Peter had taught correctly (that Gentiles were in without lots of customary Jewish observances), he did not fully live the teaching, drawing back from close association with the Gentiles in order to avoid offending Jewish Christians. We do not argue that Peter and his successors are sinless, only that in solemnly teaching on faith and morals they enjoy the prayer of the Lord and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, never to teach error and thus unite us in the truth.

Peter’s successors must unite us. Though they are not sinless men, we trust in God’s protection for their solemn teachings and thus preserve union through the prayers of the Lord for Peter.

And boy do we need it! We Catholics are a difficult lot. Shepherding Catholics is harder than herding cats. But thanks be to God for the Lord’s Prayer and for the Holy Spirit. If it were not for these, the Church wouldn’t have lasted twenty minutes! But here we are more than two thousand years later, not without our troubles and tensions, but here and fundamentally united (with legitimate diversity). There is just no other way to describe the fundamental unity of the Catholic Church for all these years than as a miracle.

Compare this to the Protestant denominations, which severed their ties to Simon Peter and have now divided and subdivided some thirty thousand times—sifted like wheat to say the least. And the divisions are not just about minor things like vestments or the type of music. The differences are about fundamental and essential doctrines such as how one is saved, if once saved means always saved, if Baptism is necessary, if adultery is grounds for divorce, whether homosexual acts are sinful, if abortion is wrong, whether there is a priesthood, and how critical texts of the Bible are to be understood. The moral and doctrinal divisions are deep and concern foundational matters related to salvation. So divided is Protestantism that many Evangelicals have more in common with Catholics (on the moral issues) than with the old, mainline Protestants.

The tragic disunity of Christendom is not entirely the fault of the Protestants. We Catholics contributed to breaks that happened in the 12th century (with the Orthodox) and the 16th century (with the Protestants).

But the disunity among Protestants does put to the lie that people can be united by a book or by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (apart from the authentic discernment of the Church’s magisterium).

The simple fact is that we have to have a pope. And if no one is pope, everyone is pope. Some may be dismissive of the need for “some pope” to tell them what to think. But truth be told, by not acknowledging some visible authority outside their own mind, they are merely appointing themselves as pope of their own little “denomination of one.”

The pope is not possessed of unlimited power. He is the Servant of Divine Revelation, not its source. He cannot overrule dogmatically defined faith that comes from Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Neither does he micromanage every aspect of Church life. But in service of the Lord’s prayer and vision, Simon Peter and his successors strengthen and unite us by working with the bishops to resolve significant matters that arise in the Church in terms of discipline and the understanding of doctrine.

But without him, we are trouble, serious trouble—trouble times thirty thousand!

In welcoming Pope Francis, we welcome the visible source of our unity. It is not merely that Jorge Bergoglio is a good negotiator. Whatever personal skills he may have, our faith lies not in those skills but in the prayer of the Lord Jesus for him to strengthen and unify us. Unity is not always easy. To accept the leadership of another is, frankly, hard. But the unity the Lord intends us to have with Simon Peter is a lot easier than the endless divisions we create on our own, apart from the Lord’s Prayer for Peter.

Welcome Pope Francis today and pray for unity among all Catholics and Christians. We may have minor differences and even a few hurtful ones, but thank God we don’t have thirty thousand differences!


A Recent Article Ponders the Rarity of Earth And How Astronomical Are the Odds Against Complex Life in the Universe!

122814We have discussed on the blog before the potential flaws in the mere statistical presumption that because there are so many stars there must be billions of other Earth-like planets in the universe that likely support life similar to ours. Why? Because it is not just one or two things that make Earth what it is; it is many, many essential things that make Earth capable of sustaining life for long enough that our civilization has been able to emerge. As these essential qualities are factored into the equation, the probability of sustained conditions capable of hosting advanced life and a civilization of intelligent beings drops very quickly.

Here are some of the factors that make Earth what it is:

  1. It is at just the right distance from the sun so that water is warm enough to melt, but not so hot as to boil and steam away into space. Water is also able, in this habitable zone, to both evaporate and condense at lower levels in the atmosphere, thus permitting a more even distribution of water and a cycle of water over dry land known as precipitation.
  2. It is in a “habitable zone” in the galaxy. Radiation and the presence of wandering planetoids make life closer to the center of galaxies unlikely.
  3. Its orbit is a nearly perfect circle rather than an “eccentric” (i.e., steep or elongated) ellipse such as that of some other planets. Steep, elliptical orbits take a planet relatively close to and then far from the sun, causing great variances in warmth and light. Earth’s almost perfectly circular orbit keeps its distance from the sun’s heat and light relatively constant.
  4. Its molten core and volcanism generate magnetic fields or belts that protect it from the most harmful rays of the sun.  Volcanism also plays a role in helping generate the atmosphere and in cycling rich minerals widely.
  5. Its sun is just the right kind of star, putting out a fairly steady amount of energy. Other types of stars are more variable in their output, making life impossible due to the extremes in warmth and light.
  6. Its fairly rapid rotation reduces the daily variation in temperature. It also makes photosynthesis possible since there is enough sunlight all over the planet.
  7. Its axis is tilted just enough relative to its orbital plane to allow seasonal variations that help complex life, but not so tilted as to make the seasons too extreme.
  8. Its moon causes tides that are just large enough to permit tidal zones (a great breeding ground for diverse forms of life), but not so severe as to destroy life.
  9. Two nearby “gas giants” (Jupiter and Saturn) attract and “catch” many wandering asteroids and comets, often keeping them from hitting Earth.

I have written more on these matters in at least two other articles:

  1. Life in the Balance – And why Earth-like planets may be rare
  2. The Earth is a Rare Jewel. A Meditation on the Glory of God in a New Discovery about our Planet

I was pleased to learn of a recent article in  the Wall Street Journal that sets forth a “rare Earth” perspective and also points to the conclusion that Earth’s perfect conditions are so astonishing as to shout “intentional design.” The article, written by Eric Metaxas, is entitled Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God – The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?

I’d like to present some excerpts in bold italics along with a little commentary of my own in plain, red text.

In 1966 … The same year Time [Magazine] featured the now-famous headline [Is God Dead?], the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.

Notice how silly Sagan’s pronouncements seem now. Yet when he said them, many bowed their heads to “modern science.” And those of us who had “infantile” notions of a “God” or who thought that we humans were somehow special or unique were told we had to let our little “myths” give way to “hard science.” Almost anybody can recall Sagan saying with his erudite accent, “billions and billions …” as he referred to the likelihood of life “out there.”

I personally have no problem with science changing its teaching as new evidence comes in. But I DO have a problem with people who idolize science as the definitive word on everything, and with some (not all) scientists who get credit for having advanced the “definitive” answer to all things.

Can we please get over this “science as a substitute for religion” obsession of the modern age? Let science be science, a discipline that deals with  empirical evidence from the material world. New information is always coming in. It is the nature of science to provide likely answers (e.g., hypotheses or formulas) rooted in current data. Physical science also focuses especially on what philosophy terms “material” and “efficient” causality. Catholic theology (faith), however, is rooted in definitive answers based on the unchanging revelation of God. It is not usually related to efficient and material casualty, but especially to final and formal causality.

Proper Catholic theology does not compete with the physical sciences and holds that whatever is true in the physical sciences will not contradict theological truth.

The problems and conflicts occur when many today want to hold the theories of physical science as conclusive (which quite often they are not) or to permit the physical sciences to claim to be able to answer or refute things outside the physical sciences, in the metaphysical order. For example, some scientists insist that the universe is the result of blind, random chance. But science cannot prove this and therefore should not make such claims. Formal and final causality are largely outside the realm of science. What science reasonably can say is that the existence of God is not something that it can definitively prove or reject. Science looks to secondary and material causes and must the leave metaphysical matters out of its discussions or conclusions. 

The problems on the religious side come when some seek to claim that religious accounts of the origin of the world and the causes of things are meant to be understood as scientific language. Yet often, religious accounts of origins and causes use allegory, metaphor, symbolism, and epic stories to convey truths and they need not be taken as literal, scientific accounts. Religion looks more to primary cause and to final and formal causality.

Science and theology are often talking about the same things but using different perspectives. Hence, they need not be seen as at war if each respects its own discipline and territory.

With such spectacular odds [which Sagan set forth], the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence [SETI], a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network…But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening … bupkis—0 followed by nothing. Some reading this will want to get defensive and say, “There are lots of reasons for the silence, including the vast distances of space.”  But read on …

What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting … Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. [e.g.] Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.

I listed just a few of those 200 parameters above. Note, too, that the argument being advanced is not merely a statistical one. The argument being advanced is one known as “irreducible complexity.”  

Irreducible complexity refers to the argument that for complex systems (like life) to exist, many things must all come together in just the right way for the system to exist or work at all. It is not workable if just some of the things are present. All must be present for the system to exist and work.

Thus, for our eyes to work, a LOT of things need to be in place and “just so.” One cannot have just a retina. There must also be a cornea, fluid in just the right condition, just the right sort of tissue to form the lens, just the right distance between the cornea and the retina, just the right sort of muscles to adjust for the light conditions, just the right sort of photosensitive cells in the retina, etc. And those are just the macroscopic requirements. There are also many microscopic requirements of every cell, and every part of every cell in the eye that must come together just so for the eye to be the eye and to function properly.

It is hard to imagine how things of this complexity could simply come together randomly and blindly. But whatever the origin of complex systems, the statistical likelihood of them existing at all gets very small, very quickly when we consider everything that must happen for them to exist and function. And that is the case being made here about Earth and the complexity of life here.

Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem … The early estimates … may no longer be tenable.”

As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even WE shouldn’t be here.

Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? … The appearance of design is overwhelming … the hypothesis that there is a Creator … gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”

I think today that many who bristle at “intelligent design” do so more from a visceral and perhaps anti-religious stance than from a truly scientific one. As said above, I am not asking scientists to declare that science can prove God exists. That is not the purpose of science. Neither am I asking them to accept the Judeo-Christian concept of God.

But if I went to Mars and found a fully functioning computer lab in a cave there I would be scientifically justified in concluding that intelligent life had put it there. I might not even be sure that it was “Martians” who had created it. Maybe the Russians had secretly gotten to Mars before us and left it there. But simply to conclude that there was strong evidence that the computer lab was designed and built by intelligent beings would not be unscientific.

And that is true here, too. The more we learn of the incredible complexity of life and of ecosystems and their irreducible complexity, the more reasonable it seems to posit an intelligent cause to it all, or to theorize that the many necessary elements were intentionally brought together by some outside force that is intelligent or purposeful. I do not ask scientists to suddenly line up to enter RCIA, only that they draw reasonable conclusions even if they are only provisional (as are most scientific conclusions).

Well, the combox is open for comments. I’d like to propose some ground rules because, sadly, most discussions on these sorts of topics generate more heat than light. (The Wall Street Journal article generated a LOT of comments: 2197 COMMENTS.)

  1. PLEASE avoid personal attacks. Write to the issue.
  2. PLEASE do not address comments or questions to me. Speak to the issue and to one another.
  3. Surely, I always appreciate kind remarks about the article, etc.
  4. But if you have a critique of the article, please remember that I am not the point; the article is the point.
  5. Quote the article and say what you think or why you disagree, and interact with one another.
  6. There is no need to “take down” the blogger. Even if you think I am an idiot or am hopelessly misinformed, that it not the point; the article is the point.
  7. Say what you mean and mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.

Answering those who say there is only one Mediator

© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I recently had an interaction with a commenter on this blog who brought up the common Protestant objection that, since there is one (sole) mediator between God and Man, Jesus, asking the saints to pray for us is useless, wrong and maybe even sinful. Yes it is quite a common objection, more so today that I remember twenty or thirty years ago.

Thus, to the suggestion by another comment that one might ask help from Our Lady, the commenter, (Gerry), objected as such:

JESUS IS THE MEDIATOR , Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, and Comforter. MARY IS THE SYMBOL OF THE CHURCH.

  • 1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is ONE MEDIATOR between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.
  • Hebrews 12:24 to JESUS THE MEDIATOR of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
  • Hebrews 9:15 For this reason CHRIST IS THE MEDIATOR of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
  • 1 John 2:1 My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor [Greek Parakleton: Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, and Comforter.] with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.
  • John 14:16-17 I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, [Greek Parakleton: Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, and Comforter.] that he may be with you forever,- the Spirit of truth, whom the world can’t receive; for it doesn’t see him, neither knows him. You know him, for he lives with you, and will be in you.
  • John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.
  • John 15:26 When the Counselor [Greek Parakletos: Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, and Comforter.] has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me.
  • John 16:13 However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak from himself; but whatever he hears, he will speak. He will declare to you things that are coming.
  • Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us[a] with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

Learn to live from Mary! She asked you to obey and listen to her son Jesus! Focus on Jesus, not Mary

My own response to Gerry was as such:

Well, we do not speak of or teach a substitutional mediation in invoking the saints, as if we were trying to go to the Father apart from Jesus’ Mediation.

Rather we speak of a subordinate mediation when we seek the prayers of the saints, or of one another. For indeed we could have no communion with them or each other if it be not for Jesus Christ, who as the head of the Body the Church, unites all his members and facilitates our communion with each other.

You seem to speak of there being one mediator in an absolute sense, excluding any other possible interaction or any subordinate mediation. But Consider, that if there is only one mediator in the absolute sense you say, then you ought never again to ask ANYONE to pray for you. Neither should you attend any church, read any book, listen to any sermon or even read the Bible (since the Bible mediates Jesus words to you).

Now, a “mediator” is someone or something that acts as a kind of go-between, as something which acts to facilitate our relationship with Jesus. And though Jesus mediates our relationship to the Father, he also asked Apostles, preachers and teachers to mediate, to facilitate his relationship with us.

Thus Jesus sent apostles out to draw others to him. And St. Paul says, How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Rom 10:14-15, 17) And thus Jesus has his relationship with us mediated through his Word, and through the apostles and others who announce that Word and draw us to him.

But since you say there is absolutely only ONE mediator, and no subordinate or deputed mediators, there is therefore no need to ask ANYONE or ANYTHING to mediate. So burn your Bible, stop asking anyone to pray for you, seek no advice, NO ONE can mediate a single thing to you Gerry.  No one can do this because there is, as you say in an unqualified sense, absolutely only ONE mediator. ONE!

Further, it also seems to follow you must also cease and desist from trying mediate anything. For if no one can mediate anything of Jesus to you, than neither can you mediate anything to them, since as you say there is absolutely only ONE mediator.  No you cannot speak Jesus’ words or his will to others, because you are trying to mediate, you are acting as a kind of go-between, as someone who speaks God’s will to another. But Gerry, according to you there is only ONE mediator! Thus, How dare you try and get between Jesus and anyone else, there is ONE, absolutely only ONE mediator. Jesus doesn’t need you and you are violating the ONE mediator rule.

But as for me, I will go one praying for you and others because I see that there is a subordinated mediatorship in service of Christ’s supreme mediatorship. And just like the Bible can mediate his presence and will, or like a preacher can mediate his word, so too the prayers of others, including the Saints, can also convey my prayers to Him, and Jesus can mediate my prayers to the Father.

Consider the analogy of the Body, since the Church is Christ’s body. Jesus has one body and all the parts are connected through the Head, who is Jesus. Consider your own body. All the members of your body have communion and unity through your head, your mind. There are different ways to have interaction with others. Perhaps some one will reach you through your ears, by speaking, or by taping you on your shoulder, or visually by waving. And thus, various members of your body facilitate (mediate) interaction with others in different ways,  but it is all facilitated through the head of your body, your mind. So too do I confidently expect to reach Jesus in different ways, whether directly, or through one of his members, realizing that He himself facilitates it.

Regarding your thoughts on Mary: Since Jesus’ body is the Church, this makes Mary Mother of the Church, not just a symbol of it, as you call her. Since she is the Mother of Jesus and he is the head of the Body, the Church. It would be freakish to consider a mother giving birth to only the head of her child, but not the rest of his Body. So Mary is Mother of the Church. If she gave birth to the Head, she gave birth to the Body. Therefore Mary is Mother of the Church, which is the Body of Christ.

Further your instruction to follow Mary’s instruction to obey Jesus is a reference to her final recorded words: “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5). I am not sure if you recall the context of this verse, but in saying this she had been interceding with Jesus on behalf of a couple at wedding where the wine ran short! She was acting as a mediator by communicating to Jesus their needs! And, When Jesus resists her request to make wine at first, she uses her motherly charm to overcome his resistance to such an extent that he is making gallons of wine!

Isn’t it ironic that you would pick a verse from Scripture to dismiss intercessory prayer which is actually a powerful example of that very practice?

But as for you Gerry, the consequence of your interpretation of absolutely and only ONE mediator, is that you must say nothing, hear nothing, interact with no one, depend on no one, and live in a closed “me and Jesus” circle. You must shut absolutely everyone and everything else out, including the Bible, for there is ONE MEDIATOR – no one, and nothing can mediate Jesus to you. There can be no go-betweens.

Well of course my answer to Gerry can use some improvements. You will add them. Also Catholic Answers has many wonderful resources. But the point here is that the Catholic practice of asking prayers of saints is attested not only Scripture, but also by common sense and the long practice of the faith.

Why Don’t You honor Mary?

101413Most 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. For a few of you who might not know what is meant by the expression “rhetorical question,” it refers to 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. Afterall, 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. And 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 proke thought and conversion. I will be doing a post on this next week.

A final thought on Mary. 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, dwelled 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 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.

Here’s a little viseo I recently put together. The Music is from the Daughters of St Paul, “I Am Thine” from the Handmaiden of the Lord Album:

The Gospels are Reliable – A Refutation of a Recent Errors About Jesus Published in the Washington Post

092913The Washington Post recently published and article by Reza Aslan entitled Five Myths about Jesus.

At one level the article is the “usual fare” from those who wish to discredit the Biblical text and make a little money in the process. Indeed our deconstructionist times love to heap scorn on our Sacred text. Almost no other ancient text receives the scrutiny and cynicism that our Scriptures, especially the New Testament does. I’ll take it as a compliment. Jesus is “public enemy number 1” to the West. Neither Buddhist, Hindu, nor even (strangely) Muslim texts receive such scorn or scrutiny. But Jesus has to go, and one way to accomplish this is to seek to discredit our Sacred Text and subject it to a scrutiny that is extreme, unreasonable, and a standard to which almost no other ancient text is subject. But again, take it as a compliment.

As for Mr Aslan’s article, while there are many specific flaws in his article, the one overarching flaw is a flaw that is common to most 20th and 21st century historical scholars. And the flaw is the hubris that we, some 20 to 21 centuries removed from the events described, somehow know better than the ancients what really happened in biblical times. Never mind that!  Yet, Luke, for example, claims to have interviewed eyewitnesses and claims to carefully mapped out the historical events surrounding Jesus:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Never mind all that, our intrepid author, Mr. Aslan, 21 centuries later somehow knows better than Luke who lived then and walked with the eyewitnesses. He also knows better than Matthew and John, James, Peter, and Jude who all walked with the Lord. He dismisses what they have all written as “shrouded in legend and myth” and couches what he says as reputable “biblical scholarship.”

In effect we are left to choose between someone who lived in the time coterminous with the events described, versus someone who lived more than 2000 years later. I for one, choose those who actually knew Jesus, and witnessed what he did. I further choose others like Luke and Mark who knew and interviewed the eyewitnesses and who wrote in the lifetime of those witnesses, such that had they lied or erred, correction and rejection would have been forthcoming. Yes, I choose the accounts of the actual witnesses whose accounts have been subject to 2000 years of scrutiny and have withstood those fierce winds.

Yet there are those who proudly suggest they now know better, that modernity has been able to somehow assemble a greater command of the fact. This is hubris.

This hubris was common among the so-called “Jesus Seminar,” a gathering of questionable scholars somehow claiming to know what Jesus actually said and did not say. A remarkable pride actually, but a pride not uncommon for us moderns who tend to look askance at ancient times as infantile and far less sophisticated than our own glorious times.

Articles like Mr. Aslan’s, say a lot more about us, than the events they claim to demythologize, or the ancients they disrespectfully dismiss as either mistaken or liars.

As to the particular charges that Mr. Aslan raises, we can answer them rather quickly:

1. He first says, – It is a myth that Jesus was born in Bethlehem: The first Christians seem to have had little interest in Jesus’s early years. Stories about His birth and childhood are conspicuously absent in the earliest written documents…..but prophecies require[d] the messiah, as a descendant of King David, to be born in David’s city: Bethlehem. But Jesus was so identified with Nazareth, Not being born in Bethlehem….Simply put, Luke places Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem not because it took place there but because that story fulfills the words of the prophet Micah: “But you Bethlehem . . . from you shall come for me a ruler in Israel.

In the world of normal people, the fulfillment of a prophecy is evidence for the veracity of something. But in the twisted world of many Bible “scholars” the fulfillment of prophecy is contraindicative and produces suspicion. Mr. Aslan goes on to cite very questionable and murky histories about the first Century census that dislocated Mary and Joseph. Really what he does is to cite a lack of evidence for such a census. (But of course Luke IS evidence). And Aslan’s argument from silence really proves little or nothing except silence. Census taking was a common thing at the time and there is no reason to doubt Luke’s attesting to it.

He also uses a tired old tactic of saying that if something was not said in the earliest documents, it therefore isn’t true. But this does not follow. I may meet you and tell you nothing of the circumstances of my birth for months or years into our friendship. But it does not follow that I was not in fact born in St. Francis Hospital, Evanston Ill in 1961. Everything is not disclosed at once, it cannot be.

Once again we are simply told to trust our author over the actual source documents in which eyewitnesses were interviewed, eyewitnesses describe the events of Jesus birth. The Gospel states quite plainly that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Why doubt this? At the end of the day, I would rather trust someone who lived at the actual time of the events than someone 21 centuries removed. Jesus was born in Bethlehem no reason to doubt it.

2. He says Jesus had brothers, Despite the Catholic doctrine of His mother Mary’s perpetual virginity, we can be certain that the historical Jesus came from a large family with at least four brothers who are named in the Gospels….Even the 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus refers to Jesus’s brother James….Some Catholic theologians have argued that the Greek word the Gospels use to describe Jesus’s brothers — “adelphos” — could also mean “cousins” or “step-brothers,” and that these could be Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. While that may be true, nowhere in the New Testament is “adelphos” used to mean anything other than “brother.” So there is no rational argument for viewing Jesus as an only child.

Note that he says “it may be true” that adelphos can mean cousin. But then he simply rejects it with a circular logic that the New Testament never uses the term this way. But how can he know this without the full genealogy of each adelphos of Jesus? Again we are simply asked to believe something because he and scholars he agrees with say so.

And, while this issue has been much debated among Christians for some 500 years, it was not widely debated prior to that. Early Christians, less remote from the events of the New Testament, had no trouble accepting that Mary had no other children or that adelphos could mean cousin.

Further, if Jesus was a member of a large family as Mr. Aslan asserts, we have some puzzling things that take place in the Gospels. For example, Jesus seems to find it necessary to entrust his mother to the care of John, a non-blood brother. Strange thing if they were other brothers on the scene. Further, Mary’s question to the angel “How shall this be since I know not man?” while mysterious, does seem to imply that Mary did not anticipate having children at all let alone Jesus. However one wants to interpret her question, it does remain a puzzling inclusion in the text if, in fact, she had many children.

But the bottom line is, the Church received from antiquity the teaching that Mary remained a virgin before during and after the birth of Christ. Why should you or I believe our intrepid author, 21 centuries later, simply because he overrules with those in the scene, and what subsequent early centuries attested to?

3. His third “myth” that Jesus did not rally have twelve disciples is trifling, and I won’t even spend time on it. You can click through to the article using the link above to read his point.

4. He denies that Jesus was tried before Pilate: In his 10 years as governor of Jerusalem, Pilate eagerly, and without trial, sent thousands to the cross, and the Jews lodged a complaint against him with the Roman emperor. Jews generally did not receive Roman trials, let alone Jews accused of rebellion. So the notion that Pilate would spend a moment of his time pondering the fate of yet another Jewish rabble-rouser, let alone grant him a personal audience, beggars the imagination.

So once again we are being asked to deny the evidence of four Gospels, several more references in the Acts and Epistles, and the evidence of most early Creeds. Why? Because Reza Aslan says so. Again I choose the massive evidence of the First Century documents over Mr. Aslan’s mere assertion that it seems unlikely.
Further his argument does not address the facts. Pilate attended with concern to the “Jesus matter” because he feared a riot. It was Passover and about a million Jews where in the and around the city. The concern for the riot got his attention. This does not “beggar the imagination” that Pilate might have sought to quell a riot and a “rabble” led by the High Priest himself.

5. Finally he denies that Jesus was buried in a tomb saying The primary purpose of crucifixion was to deter rebellion… the criminal was always left hanging long after he died; the crucified were almost never buried. Because the point of crucifixion was to humiliate the victim and frighten witnesses, the corpse would be left to be eaten by dogs and picked clean by birds of prey. The bones would then be thrown onto a trash heap….[not] in an extravagant rock-hewn tomb fit for the wealthiest men in Judea.

But Mr. Aslan omits two important facts. First it was Passover, and for this reason, the Romans deferred to requests that the bodies not be left out. Secondly, the burial in the tomb was favor to a wealthy and likely powerful man, Joseph of Arimathea.

Thus, however unlikely Mr. Aslan thinks the facts, they are reasonably explained to any reasonable listener.

We end where we began: the need for seculars and other non-Christians (I think Mr Aslan is Muslim) to debunk and try to disarm Christ and his Church. Why this need? Why do they seem to fear the untamed Jesus of Scripture? Were they as secular or as unconvinced as they say, they would not exhibit such need and passion to undermine him, they would just ignore us. But why the need to destroy, to undermine, why the passionate intensity? Does anyone passionately attack other religious traditions, to include Protestantism?

The answer seems clear enough to me, and I am complimented by it. Namely this, that Christ and His Church are public enemy # 1. Any read of history shows that we are not going away and that we have endured, even thrived in every upheaval. Civilizations and empires have come and gone in the age of the Church, nations have risen and fallen, heresies and silly theories have come and gone. And here we are, obnoxiously still standing foursquare against secularism, unbelief, Islamic Terrorism, and every error, every doctrine of demons. Strike us and we just get stronger, the blood of martyrs soaks into the ground and becomes seed.

The “Five Myths” column is a collection of either tired old theories, or simply claims that lack any basis other than Mr. Aslan pridefully says so. The Washington Post is just showing its true colors in publishing such stuff. But long after the Post is gone, (and it seems to be fading fast) the Church will still be here, perhaps suffering, perhaps thriving, but here, always here, by Christ’s promise. It isn’t human power, its God-power.

Attacks like these are ultimately a compliment and my mind drifts back to an old gloss: “Methinks thou dost protest too much.” ….Why is that?

And to my brethren in the ranks of the faithful: Keep Calm and Viva Christo Rey!

The Cross is Pregnant with Victory! A Brief Ecclesiology for the Downcast

091713In the parlor of my rectory where I meet with most of my spiritual directees, and others who come to me for counseling or instruction, there is a crucifixion scene, (see photo at right).

Among the many things means, it is for me something of a paradigm of the Church at her darkest moment. How tiny the Church had suddenly become. Gone were the crowds of Galilee which followed the Lord. Gone were the crowds of Palm Sunday shouting Hosanna. Gone were all but one of her first bishops, St. John. One of them (St. Peter) had followed at a distance, and then three times denied he knew the Lord, the rest of those first bishops fled to God knows where.

And now the tiny infant Church was gathered around her Lord at the foot of the cross. Yes, there is the Church, so tiny; only St. John, Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Mary Clopas, and perhaps one other. So tiny now, so few.

Yet here was one of her greatest moments. The bride of Christ, the Church mystically united to her groom.

And strange,  though even in this reduced and horribly suffering condition of the Church, Satan’s back was being broken, his power undermined. It is almost a Trojan Horse incident. For, even as Satan gloats over his apparent gift, a surprise waits within, a hidden power that will send him reeling.

And small though the Church has become, she will gain two surprising converts that Good Friday: the good thief, and the centurion. Perhaps not a bad day for a Church reduced to five or six: two converts, plus the breaking of the back of Satan’s power.

I often point to the statute in my parlor. For many come to me at times with great struggles, perhaps feeling defeated, or at least discouraged. I point and remind them that, for those with faith, there is something about being in the crucible, something about the cross that is pregnant with victory. Satan still has his incursions, and his apparent victories. But they are only temporary, they cannot stand. His back was broken Good Friday, and not by a large and triumphant Church, but by a tiny and suffering Church, the Church in the crucible, The Church at the foot of the cross with Christ her groom and head.

Many of us who share this blog together, are often dismayed at the condition of the Church today, and even more, the condition of culture. For those of us who are little older, our discouragement is deepened by the fact that many of us can remember a time when things at least seemed to be greater repair. Our families were largely intact, our churches filled, people seemed generally more able to make commitments and keep them…

The list could go on, but you get the point. Things were far from perfect, but things did seem to be more orderly, and the basic fundamentals necessary for culture, civilization and for the Church were more in place.

Yet, our mind should never stray far from that Good Friday afternoon, the Church so reduced, betrayed by most of her members, even her leaders; yet never more powerful.

There have been days of triumph of the Church, only to see collapse! And then, Victory again! The early days were so marked by suffering and martyrdom, and then suddenly the Edict of Constantine and the Church emerged victorious. Resurrection!

And yet, finally set free, Arianism reared its ugly presence and so many other endless fights ensued, perhaps necessary, over basic doctrines of Christology and the Trinity.

And then the sudden loss of the western flank, as the Roman Empire collapsed and moved to the east, as so-called barbarian tribes swept in to what we call Europe today. St. Augustine was so troubled that he wrote the City of God trying to explain how his beloved Roman Empire, finally having embraced the faith would now fall. St. Jerome, depressed, went to live in a cave. The Cross again.

But the Church struck up a conversation with those barbarians, and began to convert them, first in small numbers, then in waves. Resurrection!

And then, just as things seemed to be improving, all of North Africa, the great cradle of the Church, was lost, almost overnight, laid waste and mowed down by the edge of the Muslim sword. There were once 500 bishops in North Africa, some of the greatest Fathers of the Church had lived there: Augustine, Cyprian, Tertullian, Athanasius, and so many others. And now the great North African part of the Church lay beneath the sand. The Muslims made it across Gibraltar and into the Portugal and Spain before they were turned back. All of Asia Minor so beautifully evangelized by St. Paul, was also lost, lost to the Church! The Muslim invaders made it all the way to the gates of modern Vienna before they were turned back. The Cross again.

But now that North Africa was tragically lost, Europe began to flourish as a kind of Christian civilization was built there: Universities were founded, hospitals too, and the great cathedrals rose. Something called the great “Medieval synthesis” took hold. Resurrection!

And then, all of this to begin to erode with the rise of Nominalism and the Cartesian revolution it would eventually usher in. With intellectual confusion, came an epistemological revolution that severed the connection of the mind to reality, ushered in radical doubt, decadence, the rise of the individual autonomous self, and the rejection of any lawful authority within the Church. The revolution that some called the “Reformation” led to a break of unity, and the Church was once again firmly cast to the foot of the cross to search her own soul and begin a counter reformation. Ecclesia semper reformanda (The Church is always being reformed). The cross again.

Yet even as a million people left the Church in Germany in the Lutheran revolt, our Lady ushered in nine million Mexicans at Guadalupe. Resurrection!

Back in Europe, as wars, rebellion and confusion raged the Church was wracked by division, more Protestant revolts, and the hundred years war. A great darkness was gathering there that would lead to the bloodbath known as the 20th Century: two World Wars, bloody ideological revolutions, an iron curtain and an almost complete loss of faith. The lights were going out in Europe.  The Cross!

Yet, even so, faith began to take hold in the New World, And, though early persecuted, waves of immigrants escaping Europe brought the Catholic faith to the United States in numbers too big to ignore. Even though Europe was racked with confusion and doubt, many fled from there and found in America a remarkable synthesis of faith and culture held in tight knot ethic communities built around parish churches….(With healthy persecution besides!)  Resurrection!

But even America could not ultimately withstand the decadence of Europe and its decline in the post Cartesian centuries. America was eventually drawn into two European World Wars, and the poison of modernism reached our shores. And now there seems to be bewildering, almost demonic decline. The cross again!

And, suddenly, Africa is abloom again. There is a 7,000% increase in the number of Catholics in Africa in the last fifty years. Resurrection!

Yes, it would seem that the Church must often find herself back at the cross. Yet even as we are there now in the West, we must never forget that the Cross is pregnant with victory.

Many look to the Church now with ridicule and declare that we are done and defeated. But they have not studied history, nor do they know the power of God, and that the Cross is pregnant with victory.

Even within the Church there are naysayers who point to glory days and, in fear, announce great woe, and seek to assign blame for the current decline. “Things have never been worse,” they declare. But they too have not studied history (things have been far worse) nor do they seem to remember the power of God.

That the Church is at the foot of the Cross in many ways, at least in the West, in hard to deny, but the Cross is pregnant with victory. Just you wait and see!

Ecclessia semper reformanda! Sed Christus Resurrexit tertia die! Semper! Ubique!