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Archive for April, 2007

…and I don’t mean a weight loss program. 😉

Every once in a while you learn a new bit of information or you see something as if seeing it for the first time and you have a hunch that what you’re learning or seeing may have a big impact on your life. Now I’m not talking a “lightbulb” moment like when I learned I could place books on hold at our local library via the internet and some hard-working librarian would pull all of them off the shelf and have them waiting for me at the check-out desk within a couple of days. Or when I learned that Bed, Bath & Beyond will let you use expired coupons (did you know that?!).

What I’m talking about is more than a “lightbulb moment”. I talkin’ one of those scales-falling-from-your-eyes moments when you realize your life may or should change profoundly in response to what you’ve seen. The scales are falling so fast you can practically here them clatter as they hit the floor. Perhaps you’re even shaken to the core by it….but you can’t ignore it. You can’t not be changed by it. You’re drawn by it.

That was me, about 18 months ago while sitting with our church bible study as we studies this passage:

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
36: But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
37: All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out.
38: For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me;
39: and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.
40: For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
41: The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.”
42: They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, `I have come down from heaven’?”
43: Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among yourselves.
44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
45: It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
46: Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.
47: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.
48: I am the bread of life.
49: Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
50: This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.
51: I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52: The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;
54: he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
55: For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
56: He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
57: As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
58: This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” John 6:35-58

I had read these verses before, many times in fact. Frankly, it really didn’t matter to me if the wafer and wine we ingested at communion were the real deal or a memorial. If my Dh wanted to believe they were the real flesh and blood of Jesus, that was fine with me. Either way, it didn’t make any difference how we lived out our faith. That’s where I was that evening when we examined this passage.

But that particular evening, my reasoning fell apart when I discovered that the Greek word Jesus uses for “eats” in some of these verses (the ones I have bolded) means literally to “chew” or “gnaw”. Before verse 54, he uses a more common verb for eat, one that could be interpreted to have a figurative meaning, i.e. the necessity of faith. But from verse 54 on, the focus of his teaching shifts to a more crude and forceful connotation. (scales hitting the floor) In fact, this gnawing/chewing is so important that He repeats it three more times in this passage. (more scales hitting the floor) Not only that but he associates this gnawing/chewing with having eternal life (v. 54) and with abiding in Him (v. 56). (still more scales)

Because our study group was also reading through Robert Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought and was being led by a guy who was studying directly under Dr. Wilken, we incorporated many writings of the ECF’s. How did the early Christians understand this passage?

“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 110

“And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” Justin Martyr, A.D. 155

“He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.” Irenaeus, A.D. 189

“I wish to admonish you with examples from your religion. You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received the Body of the Lord, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall, and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. You account yourselves guilty, and rightly do you so believe, if any of it be lost through negligence. But if you observe such caution in keeping His Body, and properly so, how is it that you think neglecting the word of God a lesser crime than neglecting His Body?” Origen, A.D. 244

I have to admit it was a bit of a rug-pulled-out-from-under-me experience. I think the room may have even begun to spin. The Lord had shown me something BIG and I knew I would not be unchanged by it. Jesus was telling me He is in the Eucharist and that my partaking in the Eucharist assists me in abiding in Him and obtaining eternal life. Writings of the ECF’s supported these notions. The implications for my life were huge.

Why did I never understand this before? I have wondered that often since then. I think the timing and circumstances God provides for revealing more of Himself to us are part of His mystery. Perhaps up to that point in my life, He had other things to show me? I think of the Ethiopian eunuch who had been reading his bible but still didn’t “get it” until God providentially planted Philip in the eunuch’s path (Acts 8:26-31) Or there’s the all too familiar story of Paul’s Damascus Road conversion. Paul had plenty of opportunities to “see” but it wouldn’t happen unless it was God’s time and God’s way. Only God knows what it takes for us to see what He wants to reveal.

I have only skimmed the surface as far as the Early Church’s belief in the Eucharist. There are links below if you want to read more. God has each of us in a unique place of His choosing. But I do think it’s imperative (as well as a scriptural exhortation) that we know what we believe and why.

Know what you believe.

Know why.

But be careful though…it just may lead you someplace unexpected. 🙂

For futher study:

Scripture Catholic on the Eucharist

EarlyChurchFathers.com

Crossing the Tiber

The Mass of the Early Christians

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Over at Answering the Berean Call this morning, there’s a nice entry about the priesthood. Hop over there and take a look. When I saw it, I was reminded of a question a friend posed months ago to me, “Aren’t we all priests?” It’s a good question based on this verse:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9

However, despite calling the Jews a “kingdom of priests” here:

“and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” Exodus 19:6

God still provided them with a ministerial priesthood. God has acted in the same pattern, providing us, a “royal priesthood”, with priests who are to minister to us and administer the sacraments.

Once I wrote this, I found that Anne at The Kid Sister of Blessed Imelda had already explained it quite nicely here.

So….yeah…..what she said.

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I distinctly remember the first time I heard mention of the Early Church Fathers. Our Anglican priest was inviting us to a class that would examine some of the writings of these men. At that time, having never heard the term “Early Church Father” before, I assumed we would study the patriarchs of the Old Testament – Noah, Abraham, Jacob, etc. I had no idea it was possible to read documentation, commentaries, or sermons from the New Testament church outside of Holy Scripture.

I now understand that the Early Church Fathers (hereafter known as the ECF’s) were Christian teachers and/or leaders who lived and wrote during the first eight centuries of the Church. Their writings, known as Patristic writings, give us historical documentation for what was believed and practiced by the Church in the early centuries.

The Apostolic Fathers are a subset of ECF’s who lived during the first two centuries of the Church. Many of these men lived their lives from infancy with Jesus and the Apostles and grew up to be the early Church. Some of the Apostolic Fathers were direct disciples of the Apostles: Clement of Rome was a disciple of the Apostles Peter & Paul, both Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna were disciples of the Apostle John. These men are able to give us eyewitness accounts of what the early Church believed and practiced and also to what the Apostles were saying about the faith.

By now you’re wondering why the accounts the Bible provides us aren’t enough. Right?

An analogy that has helped me to understand the importance of Patristric writings is that of a study bible. My favorite bible for years was my NIV Study Bible. I constantly referred to the study notes for a clearer understanding of a verse or passage. In essence, I was trusting the interpretation of modern-day scholars to give me a clearer understanding of the Scriptures. How much more valuable are the insights offered to us by the first Fathers of the Church because their accounts are first hand. History has proven that if you ask 20 different theologians their interpretation of a verse you will get 20 different answers. Interestingly enough, both Catholic and non-Catholic scholars appeal to Patristic writings for interpretation of the doctrines and practices of the early Church.

“Can any who spend several years in the seat of learning, be excused if they do not add to that of the languages and sciences, a knowledge of the Fathers?-the most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both nearest the fountain, and eminently with that Spirit by whom all Scripture was given.” John Wesley – An Address to the Clergy

I would suggest that it’s impossible to get an accurate picture of early Christianity without consulting the writings of the Early Church Fathers. As Rod Bennett says in his book Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words:

“The early Church is no mystery. As a matter of fact, most believers would be astonished to learn just how much we do know about the first three hundred years of Christian history. We have, for example, much inspiring history about the founding of her many congregations throughout the ancient world. We actually know the names of some of her earliest pastors, and in a few cases we have their writings to read. We still have harrowing accounts of her persecution by the Pharisees and by the pagan Romans. We know what sorts of heresies attacked the early church and, once again, the very names of the heretics who stood against her. We have hymns and prayers and poetry preserved from this period. We have epitaphs from Christian tombs. We have doctrinal statements, Bible commentary, and sermons dating from these days. We have responsive readings used in church; in fact, we have a good deal of information about how Sunday services were conducted. To put it briefly, we have (contrary to popular belief) a very vivid picture of primitive Christianity-and a picture that is open for investigation by anyone.” p. 9

I hope this very basic explanation of the ECF’s has whet your appetite for more. It’s really fascinating to get a look at how these guys believed, lived, and worshipped. If you find yourself wanting more, here are a few resources to get you started:

Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought

The Fathers of the Church

The Faith of the Fathers, Vols. 1-3

EarlyChurchFathers.com

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On My Nightstand…

Roamin’ Catholic from Answering the Berean Call has inquired about what’s on my nightstand. The timing of her question is great because I have been looking for an opportunity to plug this book. 😉 We Look For a Kingdom: The Everyday Lives of the Early Christians was a gift to me recently. It’s about Ancient Roman culture and how the first believers lived in that setting. What has been wonderful about this gift is that we are also currently studying Ancient Rome in our homeschool. What my children are reading about in their assigned history readings, I’m tackling at a much deeper level in this book. The first portion of the book covers all of the aspects of Roman culture. The second half, which I have yet to read, has the subtitle “Christians as Salt and Light in the Roman World”. I highly recommend this book.

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THANK YOU to the kind reader (even though I don’t even know who you are!) who nominated this blog for the Blogger’s Choice Award category of religion. To say I’m shocked would be an understatement. It’s an honor to be named along with so many other more “heavy hitting” blogs….truly an honor.

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I remember a time in my life when any mention of “tradition” related to matters of faith invoked negative connotations such as “empty”, “man-made”, “dead”, “contrary to scripture”, “idolatrous”, and “irrelevant”. I couldn’t understand why Catholics were willing to mindlessly follow made up rules. Why couldn’t they just follow what the bible teaches and leave it at that?!? Why did Catholics have to add to the bible?!? I wondered.

My disdain for tradition flowed out of a belief that Holy Scripture alone should be a Christian’s rule of faith, an idea known as Sola Scriptura. Tradition and the truth of God’s written word were mutually exclusive in my mind, a dichotomy of ideas, if you will. I never really considered how believers in the early church were able to adhere to the faith. I’m ashamed to admit that I just assumed they read the bible. The truth is, even by 300 A.D. some of the books we now accept in our New Testament were still being disputed. Many early believers felt no rush to get their accounts written down because they assumed the return of Christ was imminent. So without an agreed upon set of New Testament writings that they could refer to as the written word of God, how did believers in the ancient church know the faith as taught by Jesus? The knew it by tradition, given to the apostles and passed on orally.

~ tradition ~

the handing down of information, beliefs, or customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction

Even after the official Canon of scripture was agreed upon, the bible was not considered the lone authority on Faith. According to Dave Armstrong, in his book A Biblical Defense of Catholicism:

“Christians before the time of the Protestant Reformation learned mostly from homilies, sacraments, the Liturgy and its year-long calendar, Christian holidays, devotional practices, family instruction, church architecture, and other sacred art that reflected biblical themes.” p.5

The Bible, the written word of God, is part of a larger Tradition, the oral word of God as revealed to the apostles. Both hold equal importance. To quote Dave Armstrong again:

” Tradition and Scripture are one unified revelation…..True Tradition can never contradict Scripture, but rather complements, explains, and expands upon it.” p.10

It’s important to note the reference to “True Tradition” in the quote above for it is quite possible for Tradition to be bad and/or contrary to Scripture.

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8

“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Mark 7:8

“Wait just a minute!” you exclaim. “Weren’t you just trying to defend the value of Tradition when right there in Christ’s own words he warns against tradition?!”

Let’s take another look at what Jesus says. His warning is against the tradition of men, not against the traditions He Himself instituted. Paul, too, is warning against the “empty deceit according human tradition” as opposed to those “according to Christ”. In fact, when we look at Scripture, we find that there are good Traditions….and that we need to know them and practice them.

“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” 1 Cor. 11:2

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” 2 Thes. 2:15

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” 2 Thes. 3:6

Also interesting is this bit of information, again provided by Dave Armstrong:

“When the phrases ‘word of God’ or ‘word of the Lord’ appear in Acts and in the Epistles, they are almost always referring to oral preaching, not to Scripture. the Greek word usually used is logos…..” p. 9

So with that in mind, these verses can be understood for their true meaning:

“So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” Matt. 15:6

“….thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” Mark 7:13

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about Apostolic Tradition, meaning the teachings Jesus handed on to and through his apostles:

“In keeping with the Lord’s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:

orally – by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the examples they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received-whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit

in writing – by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing”

“Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal. Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own ‘always, to the close of the age’.” para. 80

My point in all of this is that the relationship between the Bible and Tradition doesn’t have to be, and was never meant to be an “and/or” relationship. Tradition, as handed down by Jesus, is a good and necessary thing. God gave both His written word and His oral word as means for us to know Him.

So how do we know to which Traditions we should hold? You’ll have to come back another day for that……….but I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with dead guys and Councils. 😉

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“There are not over a hundred people in the U.S. that hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church —

which is, of course, quite a different thing.”

~Venerable Fulton Sheen~

 

One of the things that compelled me to open up this blog was an increasing awareness of all of the misinformation about Catholicism that is generally accepted as truth by so many. In that vein, please note a new blog listed in my sidebar, Answering the Berean Call. The writer of that blog was spurred on to begin writing by this set of “Hard Questions to Ask Good Catholics”. I think it will be a worthwhile read for anyone trying to understand Catholicism so check back there often.

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