The Scriptures of Mormonism, Catholicism and Orthodoxy: Questions of Canon and Ecumenism

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I remember being surprised, baffled and deeply intrigued when I discovered that there were different canons of scripture out in the world. As time went on, I began to wonder what the implications were for ecumenism. I began to wonder what the implications were for faith: If a community of confirmed, faithful Christians firmly believe that God is speaking to them through a book which has not been approved by the infallible magisterium of the Holy Catholic Church, what does it mean?

I would like to propose a brief solution. The idea is that there are inspired scriptures which are catholic, which is to say “universal”. Such scriptures are addressed by God to every individual who has ever lived. These scriptures must be received and respected by anyone who is attempting to engage in theology. They cannot be discarded or dismissed. The canon of the universal scriptures was dogmatically promulgated by the council of Trent, and canonically promulgated many times prior to that at local councils.

220px-Ethiopian_Madonna[1].jpgHowever, there are also inspired scriptures which are not catholic. That is to say, they are local, private, or specific to a specific time, place or group of people. A classic example would be the Ethiopian Orthodox canon of scripture. The Ethiopian tradition includes many books which are not to be found outside of that specific church. Are we to simply dismiss this as a theological error by the Ethiopians? How can we do this, when their bishops are all validly ordained, and therefore their received liturgies are just as inspired as the approved Catholic liturgies? In this situation, whatever scripture they have read and received in their liturgy would logically also be inspired. The solution to this problem is to say that these texts are indeed inspired, however they are only addressed to the Ethiopian church: people who are outside of this church need not pay any attention to these texts. It is similar to the doctrine of “private revelation” in the Catholic church. These revelations are private, addressed to discrete groups of people rather than the whole of humanity.

Another example concerns the Eastern Orthodox canon. The Eastern Orthodox include three extra books and one extra psalm in their canon. These additions could be ecumenically received as local inspired texts, rather than catholic inspired texts. As such, they are relevant to churches in the eastern tradition, because they have been received within that tradition, however people who are not immersed in that tradition and do not have any connection to it do not need to heed these books.

downloadThe principle could be applied and extended out wide in order to encompass other religions and cults. For example the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have their own tradition within which certain scriptures have been received (for example, the Book of Mormon). If they were to one day come back into communion with the Holy Catholic Church, they could be permitted to retain their unique scriptures provided that they are understood to be local revelation rather than catholic revelation. Of course, it is to be assumed that their received scriptures are interpreted in a way that is consistent with the rest of the deposit of faith. In this particular case it would probably call for a purely allegorical interpretation of the Book of Mormon.

Potentially we could re-approach the Jews with this principle in mind. We could allow them to take the Hebrew old testament and apply it as they wish. Even though we know that the law is not binding on Christians, Jewish Christians may choose to follow the law regardless, as it is part of their tradition and heritage.

The Islamic traditions are also fair game. Potentially one day there will be an “Islamic Ordinariate” or a Sui Iuris church which traces it’s heritage to the Islamic world. Such a church would have a heavily Islamised liturgy, wherein the faithful pray the Salat towards the Eucharist set in a monstrance during adoration (for example). It would 220px-Mosque[1]potentially by acceptable for them to retain the Qu’ran as a local inspired text within this tradition, provided that the Qu’ran is understood and interpreted in a way that is consistent with the deposit of faith. Potentially an edited, “Christian” edition of the Qu’ran could be produced which edits and deals with troublesome passages, however this would not be optimal.

The same principle could be used to inculturate all cultures and religious traditions: Let the people retain as much of what they already have as is possible, including their scriptures. Just be careful to make it clear that any scripture they bring to the table is local revelation rather than catholic revelation: It’s authoritative for people within that specific community, but not binding on anyone else.

This principle is helpful in evangelism, as it accords well with Paul’s admonition to “be all things to all people”. Paul wants us to be a Jew to Jews, a Muslim to Muslims, a Buddhist to Buddhists and a Hindu to Hindus. As missionaries we should strive to be as thorough in this task as we can, adopting as much of the local religion as we can in good conscience and without compromising our principles, so as to win the people over to Christ.

Orthodoxy 101 – Lutheranism and the Sola Fide: Objective and Subjective Salvation

e84bdc3bd3ff8b006ebdbfea4473-is-protestantism-better-than-catholicism[1].jpgI think it is helpful when approaching the Catholic/Protestant debate concerning salvation and justification, to draw a distinction between objective salvation and justification, and subjective salvation and justification. This is another application of absurdity: the seeming conflict between God’s eternal perspective and our individual subjective perspectives. In this case God’s perspective is the objective salvation/justification, and our perspective is the subjective salvation/justification.

Objective Salvation

Salvation[1].jpgIn Catholicism, there is a distinction drawn between initial justification and justification. “Initial justification” is the brute fact of whether or not we are justified, whereas “justification” is the degree to which we are justified. To translate into Protestant terminology, “initial justification” becomes simply “justification”, and “justification” becomes “sanctification”.

Romans 5:18 ESV

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

Now, initial justification is universal: all men without exception are objectively justified by the cross, descent to Hell, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The atonement was unlimited: it was an infinite, over-abundant payment for all the sins of humanity. Christ suffered Hell so that we don’t have to. All men have life and justification due to Christ’s act of righteousness. Objectively, everyone is already saved and justified. In Christ, all of our sins have been forgiven. All of this is entirely by Grace, as it depends entirely on God and in no way depends on us.

To what degree do individuals have objective justification? This is determined by the quantity and quality of loving works which Christ performs through them. Every good and loving work performed by a soul leads to the heavenly reward of an increase in objective justification. This is the “laying up of treasures in heaven” Jesus speaks about. These treasures “never decay”, which is to say that we can never lose them: Our degree of justification can only ever increase, it can never decrease.

Furthermore, all individuals have the Holy Spirit, and therefore all individuals are predestined to persevere to the end and not ultimately fall away from the salvation that Christ has won for them.

Subjective Salvation

irrational-fears[1].jpgHowever from our perspective, things are different. Subjectively, we are walking in darkness: despite the fact that we are objectively justified, we do not by default have a strong experience of this salvation. We wander about in guilt and despair, looking for something to place our hope in and finding nothing. Despite the fact that we have objectively been saved, we are subjectively experiencing damnation.

This situation changes when someone shares the Gospel with us. The Gospel essentially is the proclamation of Christ’s death, descent to Hell, and resurrection, along with the objective justification that this implies for the hearer of the message. The Gospel is therefore an unconditional promise of both present and future salvation: The Gospel says “You are righteous, right now, because Christ lives within you” and also “You will eventually arrive in Heaven, where you will enjoy a perfect relationship with God, Creation and all other souls”. These promises are unconditional: no matter what, they are going to come to pass and there is nothing we can do about it. As such the only possible responses are either to have faith in the promise, or reject the promise through disbelief and outrage.

If you have faith in the promise, this faith inevitably leads to joy and love, and the joy and love are in and of themselves a direct subjective experience of the objective salvation/justification which Christ has won. In this way, Subjective justification can be said to come through faith alone, just as all the reformers insisted. It is important to note that we do not “earn” our justification by our faith (faith is not a work), and faith is not merely “evidence” of justification: instead faith in the unconditional promise directly leads to love and joy which is in itself a direct experience of justification. Also important to note is that it is impossible for works of any sort to lead to initial justification in a subjective sense, because you simply cannot do anything to earn an unconditional promise. An unconditional promise depends entirely on God, not on us. Whether or not we believe the promise, the promise still stands and will come to pass.

Sacraments of promise

sacraments-stained-glass.jpgIn a general, generic sense, God’s promise of salvation is spoken to all humanity universally in the tradition of the church and the pages of scripture. However it is extremely useful to our personal experience of salvation to have this general promise made directly and specifically to each of us as individuals. In order for us to put our faith in it, it helps to have the promise spoken to us specifically and personally. This is where the sacraments come in.

In baptism, God sacramentally speaks the promise of present salvation to us individually. In baptism, God declares “Your sins have been washed away; All of your sins, past, present, and future, have been forgiven; You are united to Christ; You are righteous; You are justified.” This declaration – or promise – is a statement of objective fact. When the individual places their faith in this promise, all of a sudden they transition from walking in darkness to walking in light; they are experiencing salvation here and now in their subjective experience of life. They believe and trust that Christ has justified them, and this belief and trust immediately leads to a subjective experience of justification.

In confirmation, God sacramentally speaks the promise of future salvation to each individual. In confirmation God says “I have sealed you with my Holy Spirit; I will never leave you; I will never abandon you; I guarantee your inheritance in heaven; you will not suffer everlasting damnation; you will be perfect”. Confirmation is thus the sacrament of predestination and perseverance. Again, this promise is unconditional and therefore can only be subjectively received by faith. The effect of trusting this promise is to bring the promised future eschaton into the present experience of the believer. The person who trusts in the promise of confirmation is thus living in the end times even before the end times have arrived.

Mortal Sin and ConfessionFeaturedMortalSin[1].png

Romans 8:31-39 RSVCE

31 What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; 34 who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?[f] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Objectively, there is nothing that can separate us from the justification that Christ has won for us. There is nothing we can do, no sin which we could commit, which would remove our initial justification or decrease our level of justification. Our salvation and justification is a brute fact. As St Paul says; neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

However subjectively it is possible for someone to fall from a state of walking in the light back into a state of walking in darkness. This is a subjective movement from the state of grace, back into the state of sin. A person ceases to experience the justification that Christ has won for them. This occurs through Mortal Sin.

Faith in the promises of God has two effects: it leads to joy and love, but it also leads to guilt and sorrow. Faith in the promise of God both delights and tortures, as a soul becomes aware of how it has sinned against love and this leads to extreme agony. In this way, sin leads to a damaging of subjective justification via the introduction of subjective guilt. When we commit mortal sins, this constitutes a rejection of God and thus generates guilt in us. Of course, if we have been baptised we have already received the promise of God that all of our sins have been forgiven and that we are therefore objectively “not guilty”. However in our day to day experience of life, this promise made at our baptism becomes foggy and less vivid in our memory as time goes by. As such, guilt creeps up on us when we commit mortal sins and causes us to despair. Again, this despair is unfounded, because we have assurance that we are justified. Nevertheless the despair and guilt creep up on us and reduce our subjective experience of justification and salvation. In the case of apostasy or unbelief, our subjective justification is almost entirely lost.

In confession, God sacramentally reiterates the promise that he made to us at baptism: “You are forgiven; you are justified”. In this way, the sacrament of confession serves as a way to anchor ourselves in the promise that was spoken to us a long time ago. It gives us a sacramental object of faith which is close to the present and fresh in our memory, rather than distant in the past where we can’t remember it. This is particularly important for people who were baptised when they were infants and therefore can’t recall their baptism at all! For people who struggle to recall their baptism, it is incredibly helpful to have the sacrament of confession at their disposal, so that they can hear the promise of God sacramentally reiterated to them again and again as much as is needed. The promise spoken during confession and absolution is the same promise that was spoken during baptism, and so again, it is an unconditional promise that can only be received and activated in the soul by faith alone.

Someone who has a strong faith in the promise of God does not strictly need to go to confession, although it is always helpful to do so and it is therefore mandated by current Church discipline. If they experience perfect contrition due to their strong faith their subjective justification will never take a hit because they will never experience the guilt and despair which destroys faith and damages justification.

Subjective and Objective Beatitude

tumblr_m91n4lKUVZ1qgodnzo1_1280-827x1024[1]Objectively, every single good work Christ performs through us leads to an increase in objective justification. There is nothing we can do which will decrease this justification. However due to our imperfect memories and imperfect understanding of the effects of our actions, we do not subjectively experience this ever-increasing justification. When we do a good, loving work, we temporarily experience the heavenly bliss which it won for us. But then time marches on and the experience fades into the dark recesses of our memory. We only ever experience the present moment, and the present moment contains only some memories of the past, not all of them at once, therefore we only subjectively experience a small portion of the justification and salvation that has been won for us. In this way, Justification is something that can ebb and flow in a subjective sense, while it is something invincible that can only grow and not shrink in an objective sense. As mentioned, guilt may creep in and damage our justification despite the fact that we have been declared “not guilty” by God at baptism. This is why we have confession; to bring the promise forward into the present so that we can place our faith in it again.

At the particular judgement, when all is laid bare before us and our perspective is no longer constrained by our limited memories, everything we have ever done will be laid out before us and we will experience all the justification that has been won by our loving actions simultaneously. This will be beatitude: we will experience vision of, and union with, God, in proportion to our amount of justification.

Sacraments necessary for salvation

sacraments[1].gifThe Catholic church has dogmatised the necessity of the sacraments for salvation. But the question needs to be asked, “are sacraments necessary for objective or subjective salvation?”

The sacraments are only necessary for salvation in a subjective sense. Baptism is necessary in order to have the promise of God personalised and spoken to you as an individual. However the church also recognises “baptism of desire” and “baptism of blood”. This hints that it is really the faith in the promise spoken through the sacrament that is more important, rather than the sacrament itself. Likewise with confession: Confession is said to be necessary, but it is possible to receive justification and forgiveness via perfect contrition apart from the sacrament.

Objectively the sacraments are superfluous. Christ’s promises will come to pass regardless of if they are spoken to us sacramentally. We are objectively justified and predestined to heaven. Someone can place their faith in Christ’s promises without those promises being spoken to them personally in the sacraments. However this is hard. God gives us the sacraments to help us and reassure us and make his promises tangible. In this way it is faith in the promises alone which leads to subjective justification.

Anonymous Christians and implicit faith

how-to-volunteer-with-buddhist-monks-3-1461922112[1].pngIt is a maxim in Catholicism that works and faith are inseparable: faith always leads to works, and works are always a demonstration of faith. This idea leads to the concept of anonymous Christians. An anonymous Christian is someone who demonstrates implicit faith in God and his promises via their loving actions, despite the fact that they do not have explicit faith in the promises of God. These people are laying up treasures in heaven without realising it: they are objectively justified by Christ, and they are increasing their objective level of justification by their loving works, however subjectively they are still largely walking in darkness as they do not have an explicit knowledge of the promise of the Gospel. These people need to be evangelised and told the good news. In this way their objective justification will become subjectively activated and these people will transition from being anonymous Christians walking in darkness into explicit Christians who are walking in the light, overflowing with joy.

Summary

sola-fide1[1].jpgThe Lutheran doctrine of sola fide, when correctly understood, does not contradict Catholic dogma but rather complements it nicely. Subjective justification is by faith alone: the strength of an individuals faith in Gods promises determines the quality of their experience of salvation. However objective justification is by Grace alone: Christ died in our place and forever paid for our sins, furthermore he works through us and these works are rewarded with an increase in our level of justification.

(Go to “The Glorious Gospel”)

Beautiful Heresy 101 – Unpopular opinions: Polygamy, Premarital Sex, Women’s Ordination and Wife-Beating

Polygamy

1433335105153.cached1[1].jpgI believe that certain problems that we face today could be solved if the church re-allowed sacramental marriage between a man and many wives, and between a woman and many husbands.

I should immediately clarify that I do not think that polygamy should be encouraged by the Church, I merely think it should be permitted. The evidence – both biblical and extra-biblical – shows that monogamy is the superior form of marriage: the partners are able to give themselves to each other more fully and lovingly and dedicate themselves to the raising of a genetically tight family. However there is a precedent in the tradition for polygamy in Christianity and Judaism, and to a certain degree it survives today in the form of remarriage after the death of a spouse. I propose that this practice be permitted once again.

According to the Eastern Orthodox view of marriage, marriage is an eternal sacrament which has a permanence which survives death. In other words if you are married while you’re alive you’re still married once you’re dead. Marriage imparts an indelible mark on the souls of the partners similar to the marks received at baptism, confirmation and holy ordination. What’s more the sacrament of marriage has a retrocausal dimension, which is to say that the partners are married in the eyes of God even before they exchange vows in a temporal sense (Although logically and formally the exchange of vows is still necessary for the marriage to take place)

With this permanence of the sacrament in mind it would seem that the church already allows for a limited form of polygamy in that if someone’s spouse dies, they are free to marry again. However if marriage is something that survives death as claimed by the east, then remarriage after the death of a spouse would imply that a person has technically entered into multiple simultaneous marriages at once.

So what is my motivation for proposing a return to permitting polygamy across the board? There are a couple of reasons. The first is that allowing for sacramental polygamy would make it much much easier for people who come from polygamous cultures to convert. I vaguely recall a tale about a Native American who greatly desired to convert to Christianity, but was unable to do so because he was unable to choose only one of his wives to be his sacramental wife. It would have been most charitable, emphatic and understanding if the Church simply tolerated polygamy in special circumstances such as these and allowed for multiple simultaneous sacramental marriages. This is not an isolated incident either: there are many cultures where polygamy is the norm, such as parts of Africa and China, and the entire Islamic world. It would be much easier for families from these cultures to convert if they were given a special dispensation to continue with sacramental polygamy. Of course polygamy should be strongly discouraged, if not forbidden in general (with special exceptions, as outlined below) for future generations.

The second situation where polygamy should be permitted is when a marriage has broken down and the partners are estranged and living apart, and one or both of the partners have civilly remarried. This is obviously a terrible situation, however it does no good to deny the sacraments to the civilly remarried person and simultaneously deny them the means to rectify the situation via a new sacramental marriage. The current controversy surrounding Pope Francis document Amoris Laetita concerns this issue: some bishops are interpreting the document to mean that couples who are living together without being sacramentally married are nevertheless permitted to receive the Eucharist and other sacraments despite technically committing the mortal sin of adultery. As outlined above marriage leaves a permanent mark on the soul and therefore divorce is impossible, however in the situation described it really is nonsensical to forbid the civilly remarried couple from seeking sacramental marriage. I propose that in this situation it would be pastorally much more wise to simply allow technical polygamy which ends up working out as functional monogamy: The remarried couple are essentially living monogamous lives with each other, even though one of the partners is technically married to two people. This is a similar situation to allowing remarriage after the death of a spouse: Technically the surviving partner is married to two people; the deceased partner and the living partner; however functionally they are still living a monogamous life.

Obviously the constant prayer in this second situation should be that the original partners will find some way to come back together, even despite the new marriages. However in many relationship breakdowns this is completely infeasible and simply does not happen.

In conclusion, I think that monogamy should be strongly encouraged by the church, however I think that polygamy should be permitted in certain special circumstances, for example when someone from a polygamous culture wants to convert to Christianity, or when a marriage breaks down and the partners remarry. Polygamy, if it is introduced should be closely guarded and require special dispensations which are not handed out easily. Polygamy should not be encouraged, but it should be tolerated. It is unwise but not impossible.

Note: It has come to my attention that the council of Trent produced an anathema against polygamy. This of course needs to be interpreted in context to work out if it rules out polygamy as it is described above (Does it take into account marriage as an eternal sacrament and remarriage after the death of a spouse?), however it appears to be a fairly damning dogma.

Premarital Sex

evangelical-sex-sessions-teaser_gsnmrm.jpgFollowing on from the idea that marriage is eternal and retrocausal, it would seem that a couple is technically already married even before they exchange vows. In this way if they engage in sexual intercourse prior to the marriage ceremony, they have not actually commit the mortal sins of fornication and adultery. Of course, it would be quite unwise to engage in sexual intercourse prior to the wedding ceremony because there is no guarantee that they will indeed end up getting married at that point, in which case it would indeed be fornication and adultery.

Perhaps in this context, sex before marriage should be seen as something which propels the couple towards the marriage ceremony and commits them to it. Again, this is unwise but not impossible.

Women’s Ordination

Women-Ordination-01[1]I believe that certain ecumenical problems the church faces today could be resolved if we recognised women’s ordinations in special circumstances. To be clear, I am not proposing that any of the churches in the Catholic communion change their practice of restricting ordination to men. I simply think that there should be special dispensations allowed for women to be ordained in certain extremely limited circumstances.

The main advantage is entirely ecumenical. The Anglicans and Lutherans and certain other denominations and churches already have female bishops, priests and pastors. If we are to come into communion with them we must find some way of accommodating this development. Technically most of these female bishops and priests lack apostolic succession and valid holy orders, as they come from communions which broke this succession at the time of the reformation. However it should be possible to receive them into communion by giving them a fresh and valid ordination, just as is done with priests who enter the Anglican Ordinariate. An ecumenical dispensation is granted to Anglican priests who are married so that they can continue their priestly ministry in the Catholic church, in a similar way an ecumenical dispensation could be granted to female priests and bishops so that they can continue their sacramental ministry.

I’m speaking on the assumption that woman can be ordained in the first place. I have not heard a single strong argument against the possibility of women’s ordination. There is the argument from tradition, which states that because it has never been done, it never can be done. This is obviously fallacious. There is the argument that priests have to be men because Jesus was a man. This can also be demonstrated to be fallacious: If all priests have to be men because Jesus was a man, then why not also make it a requirement that all priests have to be Jewish because Jesus was a Jew? Or why not make it a requirement that all priests have to be born of a virgin, because Jesus was born of a virgin? There is a similar argument that priests have to be men because all of the apostles chosen by Jesus were men. This line of argument suffers from the same limitations as the previous one: all the apostles were Jewish, does this mean that all priests have to be Jewish? All the apostles lived in the first century, does this mean that all priests have to have lived in the first century?

I see no fundamental reason why a woman cannot be a priest and perform all the sacramental functions of a priest. Christ was human; women are human: surely this is the essential point. Women share a humanity with Christ, and therefore women have it within themselves to share in his priestly service, offering the sacrifice of the mass, hearing confessions, effecting the transubstantiation of the bread and the wine. Nevertheless I am speaking of possibility here, not prudence. While I believe that it is possible for women to be priests, I don’t think it is wise. The New Testament speaks in strong terms about men being the leaders and women being submissive followers. It also forbids women from speaking in Church and generally talks them out of taking on leadership roles. If we are to take the New Testament seriously as our Christian constitution and guide, we can only conclude that female pastors are a bad idea. They may not be impossible, but they are definitely unwise. So if they are to be allowed in the Catholic church they should only be allowed ecumenically, that is, in such a way that only the communities which already allow female pastors are allowed to retain them, while communities which at the present time forbid them should continue forbidding them.

Physical Discipline of Wives

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(Disclaimer: I am merely thinking out loud. I do not necessarily hold to the opinions expressed below. I do not approve of violence)

The last controversial opinion to put forward is that I think there should be no legal consequences for a man who beats his wife with good cause. Straight up I want to make clear that I am not in favour of domestic violence and I take a dim view of a man who brutally beats up his wife. However I do believe that men should have the option to physically discipline their wives.

I would like to draw an analogy with nuclear weapons: No one would say that the detonation of a nuclear bomb against an enemy is a good thing. Similarly, no one would say that the use of physical violence by a man against his wife is ever a good thing. However, the mere possibility that a country could launch a nuclear attack serves as a deterrent against provoking that country into a war. Similarly the mere possibility that a husband could physically discipline his wife should serve as a deterrent against the wife attempting to usurp his male authority and husbandly headship. If a man is to effectively be the head of his household – as he is called to be in the bible – he needs to be in charge and an effective leader. He needs to have his wife and children in submission. If physical discipline is permitted in order to keep children well behaved, it should be permitted towards wives too.

Obviously the best husband would be one who manages to keep his household in order without resorting to violence of any sort. However the mere possibility that a husband could physically retaliate should serve as a deterrent to the wife, and thus make it easier to keep the household in proper order. I am not in favour of normalising domestic violence. If husbands are brutally and violently abusing their wives without sufficient cause this is completely unacceptable. Ironically, we could look to the Islamic world in order to learn more about the acceptable limits of physical discipline towards wives. Muslims have been pondering this question for centuries and trying to work out a theology of the most “loving” and “charitable” way to physically discipline wives. Muslims have examined the issue from many angles and come to all sorts of conclusions about the various nuances involved. Christians, and western society in general could learn something from them.

Part of the decline of western society stems from feminism and the usurpation of the husband as the head of the family. Women have attempted to dethrone men as the leaders and this has lead to utter chaos: rampant abortions, divorces, failed marriages, sexual promiscuity. Unfortunately the laws of the west have been infected with this feminist nonsense and they favour women to the point that men are effectively unable to govern their families as the head of the household. Men are the ones living in fear that their wives might have an affair, divorce them, and then take off with half their wealth and all the children. If a man attempts to physically assert his authority he is faced with legal repercussions. The ability of a western man to govern his household is completely neutered by the situation in western society. If a western man has a disobedient wife, he is unable to discipline her. A good Christian man can only pray for a good submissive Christian wife, but such women are incredibly rare in western society.

I propose that the solution to this problem is to re-approach the possibility of husbands physically disciplining their wives without legal repercussions. We can look to the Islamic world for guidance on how to do this fairly and responsibly

(Disclaimer: On this last issue I am not committed to anything that I have said and am entirely willing to have my opinion changed. I am merely thinking out loud. Don’t come away from this post thinking that I am advocating for beating up women: I’m not)

Beautiful Heresy 101 – Lutheranism and the Sola Fide: Catholics should embrace “Simul Iustus Et Peccator”

Stamp[1].gifA classic formula of Luther is simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously justified and a sinner. This formula concisely sums up the reformation view of justification. Traditionally, the Catholic Church has taken issue with this formula, however I argue that it really doesn’t need to; it doesn’t take much effort to interpret the formula such that it becomes a concise summary of the contemporary Catholic understanding of justification.

The difference in interpretation is a simple reversal: Protestants understand the formula as meaning that we are extrinsically righteous and intrinsically sinful. Whereas Catholics can understand the formula as expressing the fact that we are intrinsically righteous and extrinsically sinful.

Extrinsically Righteous, Intrinsically Sinful

lawsuit[1].jpgThe protestant understanding of Justification is forensic. Protestants like to define Justification as “to be declared righteous”. So if someone is justified, this is meant to imply that God has decreed that the person in question is righteous, regardless of the reality of the situation. In fact, this declaration is made contrary to the reality of the situation. The Justified man is still a totally depraved sinner, incapable of doing anything good on his own; he is completely and entirely evil to the core. In the protestant view of things, the sinner is so far gone that it is impossible for God to heal them. However in order to get around this situation God performs a magic trick called double imputation. This is where the sin of the sinner is wrapped up and exchanged with the righteousness of Christ. The sin of the sinner is imputed to Christ and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner. Protestants often talk about being “clothed in the righteousness of Christ”. Sometimes they say “Jesus’ righteousness is credited to our account and our sins are credited to his account”.

The key thing to note about all of this is that it is entirely forensic: justification consists of a simple legal decree where God says to the sinner “you are righteous” and he says to Christ “you are sinful”, despite the fact that both of these declarations in no way correspond with the reality of the situation: Jesus is still inherently sinless and the sinner is still inherently totally depraved.

In this way, Protestants understand that those who are justified are intrinsically sinful, as they are still vile, totally depraved sinners, and yet they are externally righteous, because they are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and this is what the Heavenly Father sees when he looks at them.

Intrinsically Righteous, Extrinsically Sinful

tumblr_mzt2ys1GdH1t5lrm6o1_400[1].gifCompare this with the Catholic understanding. In contrast to the forensic understanding of Justification in Protestantism, Catholics understand Justification to mean “to be made righteous”. That is, Justification means that the person in question has really and truly become righteous. However it is important to note that this righteousness is the righteousness of Christ. Rather than being “clothed” externally in Christ’s righteousness, Catholics believe that his righteousness is directly infused into the soul of the justified. A dual-ownership of the righteousness occurs in that both Christ, and the Justified person can point to the righteousness and say “that is mine”.

However despite being intrinsically righteous, the Justified person is still living in a fallen creation and as such they are subject to concupiscence and temptation from the flesh, the world, and the Devil. So even though they are intrinsically righteous, they are not impeccable: they are still able to sin. And sin they do. This sin does not detract from their intrinsic righteousness, however it does lead to their soul being damaged and mangled. Their sins externally cling to their soul, and must be burnt off (or “purified”) in purgatory before they are able to ascend to heaven. It is important for protestants to note that someone who is in purgatory is already justified, it is not a second chance at salvation and it is not salvation by works: it is simply the burning away of extrinsic sin that clings to a persons soul.

So Catholics understand that we are intrinsically righteous as the righteousness of Christ is poured into our souls, however we are also extrinsically sinful as the effect of our sins is to damage our soul as they cling to it.

In this way both Catholics and Protestants can affirm “Simul Iustus Et Peccator”, despite having fundamentally different ways of approaching the formula.

Further differences

rewarded-saint[1].jpgThe protestant understanding of Justification is black and white: Either you have been declared righteous or you haven’t. In comparison the Catholic understanding is more fluid: Someone can be “made righteous” to a higher degree than someone else. In the Catholic account, the righteousness of Christ is progressively poured into a soul more and more over that persons lifetime. However when they die the opportunity to grow in righteousness ceases. When the soul ascends to heaven, it receives a reward that is directly proportional to how much righteousness it had accrued during life. In this way there are different levels of reward in heaven, with Mary and Jesus receiving a maximal reward and people like Hitler (assuming he was saved) getting an extremely low reward.

In comparison, Protestants tend to get squeamish when talking about there being different levels of reward in heaven. The general sentiment among protestants is that we will all be infinitely happy and satisfied in heaven, and therefore talk of different rewards is useless.

Protestants sometimes complain that the Catholic account of justification is just salvation by works. This is of course a total misunderstanding. Catholics are saved completely and entirely by Grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), however our level of reward in heaven is determined by our level of righteousness during life, and this is in turn closely tied to the amount of good and loving works we performed while on earth. Works justify us in the sense that works increase our righteousness (James 2:24), and in that faith justifies us and faith and works are inseparable. However the fact that we are saved at all is entirely a matter of Grace, and according to the doctrine of synergism even our works are born of Grace (Ephesians 2:10).

There is a helpful axiom which can be employed to understand the Catholic view: “Every bad thing you do will be punished, and every good thing you do will be rewarded”. In other words: your level of justification leads to a corresponding level of reward in heaven, and the intensity of your “sinful dirtiness” will lead to a correspondingly intense purification in purgatory.

(Go to “Justification as Declaration”)

Catholic versus Protestant Funerals – Aeviternal Apokatastasis: “Where can we find Assurance of Salvation for those whom we have loved and lost?”

Catholic and Protestant Funerals

russian-orthodox-funeral[1]

The Catholic funeral is very sober and sombre. Much ritual is directed towards petitioning God to allow the departed soul a peaceful journey to heaven. The threat of temporal punishment for unrepented sin looms menacingly over the proceedings. Everyone follows the priest as he leads the gathered mourners in ever-hopeful, but never presumptuous prayer. The eulogy given will surely attempt to be optimistic, however it will be firmly grounded in the life of the deceased; the level of hope that is spoken of will be proportioned more or less to how loving, kind and gentle the deceased had been to God and neighbour during their time on earth. The unspoken assumption hovering at the back of everyone’s minds is that the dearly departed had not been perfected in love at the moment when they died, but neither were they totally depraved and in a state of stubborn rebellion against God’s grace, and therefore it’s a pretty safe bet that they are in neither Heaven nor Hell: They are in Purgatory. Their journey is not complete; it has only just begun. Their suffering did not end with their last breath; they have stepped out of the frying pan and into the fire. They need all the help they can get, and so prayers and petitions for swift deliverance from their future fiery trials are offered up to God.

The Protestant funeral, at a superficial level, is also serious and subdued. However unlike the Catholic funeral, there is a distinct undercurrent of Christian Joy running beneath the sadness. There will be no struggle to stay optimistic in the eulogy this time; it is guaranteed to be a happy, victorious, comforting, evangelical, assuring proclamation of God’s abundant and overflowing mercy towards those who trust in him and his promise of salvation. The deceased was well known by friends and family to have had a strong faith in Christ, and this simple fact will overshadow any sins, character faults and spiritual imperfections that they may have carried with them to the grave. Everybody present knows that none of this believer’s sins could possibly thwart God’s relentless, irresistible Grace. This particular soul has certainly ascended straight into Heaven, where they are enjoying a full and wholesome relationship with each person of the Trinity. Mingled with the grief at the loss of this friend and family member will be prayers of praise and thanksgiving, as the gathered mourners reflect on the wonderful gift of salvation. Sentiments along the lines of “She’s gone to a better place” will be shared, and not at all superficially. If these protestants happen to believe in the communion of the saints, they may even find it appropriate to ask the recently deceased to make use of their newfound close proximity to God to pray and intercede for those left behind.

Notice the conflict: At the Catholic funeral, it is not certain at all where exactly the soul of the recently deceased has departed to. The presumption is that they have ended up in Purgatory, where they will undergo fiery torments and torturous purifications. As such, we should pray for them, and hope that God may have mercy on the poor soul on account of our prayers. Whereas at the Protestant funeral, everyone is extremely confident that the dearly departed is in blissful repose somewhere up in Heaven and is watching over the funeral proceedings with great interest at this very moment. In this case it is not appropriate that we should be praying for them: instead we should be asking them to pray for us!

Temporal and Eternal

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Our experience of life is a Temporal one: we experience time. We are able to point backwards to the past and look forwards to the future, but most importantly we experience single moments in sequence, and we can point to this constantly changing single moment as the present. The present moment is the only moment – or slice of time – that we have direct access to and in which we are able to affect reality.

Compare this to God’s Eternal experience: God is omniscient (that is, he possesses all possible and impossible knowledge), and so he experiences all moments in time – past, present, future – simultaneously. In fact for him, there is no such thing as past, present or future, there is simply an “eternal now” that encompasses all possible moments. All these moments are always immediately and directly present to him: he does not have to remember them, or imagine them, or retrieve them from storage and place them on the workbench. Incidentally, this also applies to all of God’s knowledge: God cannot learn or forget – he is immutable (that is, incapable of change) – and so all of God’s knowledge is ever present to him. This idea of a single moment which perfectly and simultaneously encompasses moments is called Eternity. There is no time – past, present or future – in Eternity, to be eternal is to be immutable.

A person can experience one of two broad states: Life and Afterlife. Life is a temporal existence. But what about Afterlife? It is commonly accepted that time pertains to life, and that there is no time after death. However the existence of Purgatory indicates that despite a lack of time change is still possible in the afterlife. This “not quite temporal, not quite eternal” existence is called Aeviternity. To get a grasp on the idea, it is helpful to examine the tradition of the church with regards to indulgences.

Indulgences and Aeviternity

Johann-Tetzel-Selling-Indulgences[1]

Historically indulgences would be quantified by some amount of time. For example saying a certain pious prayer might reduce your time in Purgatory by “40 days”, or completing a certain pilgrimage might reduce your time in Purgatory by “10 years”.  Some of the indulgences became quite extravagant, with time reductions stretching up into the hundreds and thousands of years. Since Vatican II, the church has refrained from putting hard numbers on indulgences and instead offer Plenary and Partial indulgences. A Partial indulgence reduces the time a soul must spend in Purgatory, while a Plenary indulgence completely removes the need for a soul to experience Purgatory at all.

It is interesting to compare the pre and post Vatican II practices. Both of them are valid approaches to indulgences: despite how ridiculous it might seem to some, an indulgence which reduces your time in Purgatory by “5000 years” is entirely valid and in an important sense does exactly what it says. Subjectively Aeviternity is experienced as something analogous to time but which seems to be everlasting, which is to say it is experienced as an “infinite” stretch of time. Considering this, an indulgence which takes fifty thousand years off an infinite stretch of time isn’t even a drop in the ocean, nevertheless it is still worth fighting for because escaping Purgatory involves engaging your will by actively repenting until you are perfectly clean of sin; it is always better to strive towards this goal than not, as it is in no way an unachievable goal. The gift of a Plenary indulgence suddenly becomes clear too: you aren’t reducing your time in purgatory by a set number of days, months or years; you are wiping away the entire punishment!

So there is something akin to time and temporality in Purgatory: This is what happens when we try to map our temporal existence onto an experience of Aeviternity. There is something analogous to time in Purgatory, because there is change and progress. However the important thing to note is that whatever this time analog may be, it is not actually time. Aeviternity is just as timeless as is Eternity proper. So just as it is possible to experience Eternity as an “Eternal now”, with all moments directly and simultaneously accessible, so it is also possible with Aeviternity.

So how are we – as temporal creatures – supposed to approach those in the afterlife, who are experiencing an Aeviternal existence? How are we supposed to map our temporal experience to the Aeviternal reality of the beyond?

The link between Temporality and Aeviternity

The fact that we are temporal creatures during life in no way changes the fact that the afterlife is always and everywhere Aeviternal. In other words, the afterlife is always spiritually accessible as an “Eternal now” to us who still walk the earth: in our prayers we have access to every single moment in that one Aeviternal moment simultaneously. One second we can pray as if someone was halfway through their purgatorial journey, asking God to give them strength and resilience and help them to repent of whatever sins are still clinging to their soul; The next second we can pray and praise God as if that same person had just completed their purification and been admitted into heaven; And the second right after that we can pray as if that very same person had only just died and arrived on the doorstep of Purgatory, with a long and arduous mission of repentance ahead of them, involving much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

All of these moments are directly accessible to us temporal creatures: all of them are always and everywhere simultaneously connected to the present moment in which we live. In this way, it is paradoxically appropriate to praise God that someone is in Heaven while simultaneously petitioning him to help them on their way while they are in Purgatory. To us here on earth the fact that someone is in Heaven and that same someone is in Purgatory are simultaneous realities, because they are both Aeviternal moments

Understanding this, suddenly both the Protestant and the Catholic funerals make perfect sense: The Protestants are focusing on the “final” moment in the Aeviternity in which the soul has completed it’s purification in Purgatory and is being admitted into Heaven and immutable eternity proper, which is a wonderful, glorious, joyful event. On the other hand the Catholics are focusing on the “first” moment in the Aeviternity, which is very solemn and serious as the soul has just entered Purgatory and will have to undergo severe, painful, and what may even be experienced as everlasting purifications. Both these first and final moments in the “eternal now” of Aeviternity are completely valid moments to focus on at a funeral. Even more interestingly, this means that it is both appropriate to pray for a soul in purgatory, but also to simultaneously ask that soul to pray for you on the assumption that they are a Saint in Heaven.

What does Scripture say?

1 Corinthians 15:51-52

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

2 Peter 3:8

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

Protestants often refer to the 1 Corinthians passage to justify their disbelief in purgatory. They make a big fuss of the phrase “we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye“. They will say that this passage proves that afterlife sanctification is instantaneous and does not require the purgatorial process that Catholics insist upon. If we must take this passage as a reference to post-death sanctification rather than the parousia and resurrection, it in no way conflicts with the idea of Purgatory. It is simply honing in on the “eternal now” aspect of Aeviternity. It is true that Aeviternity is a process of change, however this process of change occurs “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye” from our perspective here on earth. From our temporal perspective, the process of Purgatory is only just starting, but it is simultaneously already complete. It is the “eternal now”: everything present “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye”

The 2 Peter passage is also good for illustrating what an “eternal now” is like. Time expands and contracts in the strangest ways: a day lasts for eternity but at the same time a thousand years can be over faster than you have time to blink. This helps to shed some light on what it’s like to experience “time” in Purgatory: Aeviternity is simultaneously “everlasting” and “instantaneous”. It is correct to think that our purification will be complete in the twinkling of an eye, but it is also simultaneously correct to think that it will involve a long long process of afterlife repentance and suffering

Funerals Revisited

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Consider again the Catholic funeral. This time the poor soul in question was a suicide. Moreover he had a terrible record of sinful indulgence. He was a rapist, a murderer, a terrorist. He died with blasphemies on his lips. It’s a great wonder that he has even been granted a Catholic funeral at all. The people gathered at this funeral – if there are any – would be fighting hard to muster dredges of hope for this dead maniac. They hope for purgatory at best, but really; all signs point to Hell. There is a mood of doom and gloom left behind in the wake of the deceased. People hesitate to pray for him, because it is almost a foregone conclusion that he has descended to Hell – from which there is no escape – and so prayers would be pointless. There is minimal hope that he has made it to the Aevum, most are resigned to the idea that he is suffering unspeakable, everlasting, eternal tortures in Hell. Some of his victims may even take some comfort in believing that this is the case.

Consider again the Protestant funeral. This time it is the apostate son of the local Pastor. Died during a drug overdose. He grew up knowing the truth, and then rejected it. Read this crushing word from Hebrews 6:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

“It is impossible” for him, haven fallen away “to be brought back to repentance”. Everyone at the funeral knows full well that this boy has abandoned the faith, to the perpetual disappointment and shame of his faithful and ministering mother and father. This is a prodigal son who never returned home; one who died in his sins, in a state of rebellion and spiritual poverty. The people gathered to mourn his passing may grasp at straws for some sort of hope. Some of them might be of the “Once saved always saved” persuasion. But undoubtedly everyone will be disheartened and discouraged by his being completely devoid of any evidence of saving faith, implicit or explicit at the point of his death. Deep down, everyone knows that he’s in Hell. Sure, during the eulogy his father may throw out some platitudes about God’s will being mysterious and how we can only trust in his mercy, but he’s had too good of a Calvinist theological training to honestly believe what he’s saying.

In both the funerals, despair is sovereign. There is no confident, hopeful assurance of salvation in either case. But why should this be so? Doesn’t it seem that the people are focusing on the sinners individual actions and life far more than on God’s Grace and mercy? They are making salvation depend on the response of the sinner. But the scriptures are emphatic that salvation is by Grace: God saves us, we don’t save ourselves. Surely these despairing responses reflect a failure to trust in God’s promise to save us? We forget that where sin abounds, Grace abounds all the more. These people’s sins should not cause us to consider them “eternally lost” and consign them to Hell. We should be ever rejoicing in the unconditional gift of salvation. God will leave the 99 sheep to find the 1 who is lost and bring it back to the flock. We should be able to stand at anyone’s funeral and confidently proclaim their entrance into Heaven, regardless of how they lived or died. We should also be able to attend anyone’s funeral and offer up prayers of petition that they be helped on their journey through the tortures of Purgatory towards Heaven. We should be able to go to any funeral and pray as if they have entered into Aeviternity. Never be distracted by the life and works of the sinner who stands under judgement. Heaven should always be assumed, never Hell. Strong hope and abundant Joy should always be experienced at every funeral, not despair and crippling depression. Always focus on the victory of Christ, the promise of the Spirit, and the Grace, Mercy and Love of the Father.

A Christian Speaks In Defence of Hinduism

I was googling for a definition of “Kenotic theology” when I stumbled across this blog maintained by a Southern Baptist Pastor called James Attebury. As I browsed his articles, I landed on this one titled “Why I am not a Hindu”. It was interesting, and I can’t resist posting a response. I should be straight up and say that while I identify as both Christian and Hindu and regularly attend my local temple, I am a neophyte and not an expert in Hindu theology. However I know enough about Advaita Vedanta and other schools of Indian thought that I feel equipped to make a response.

Response to the Objections

1. Hinduism is scientifically impossible because it teaches that the universe never had a beginning because it is divine.

The Upanishads teach that God is the whole world (pantheism):

“Brahman, indeed, is this immortal. Brahman before, Brahman behind, to right and left. Stretched forth below and above, Brahman, indeed, is this whole world” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.11).

“Thou art the dark-blue bird and the green parrot with red eyes, Thou hast the lightning as thy child. Thou art the seasons and the seas. Having no beginning, thou dost abide with all-pervadingness, wherefrom all beings are born” (Svetasvatara Upanishad 4.2.4).

Since “Brahman, indeed, is this whole world” and he has “no beginning,” therefore, the world must have no beginning.

But this goes against everything that we know about the universe from science. While many atheists try to defend an eternal universe because they don’t want to believe in God, their arguments have insurmountable problems.

A couple of things come to mind. Firstly, citing “science” as an authority comes across as incredibly simple-minded and vague. Whenever someone says “Science says xyz” it comes across to me in exactly the same way as when fundamentalist evangelicals say “The bible says xyz” or fundamentalist Catholics claim “The Church teaches xyz”. Usually in these cases, science does not say xyz, and neither does the bible or the church.

Secondly, if we take “Science” to mean “empirical investigation of reality” and “theories grounded in consistent results derived from repeated experiments”, then science suffers from the problem of induction. For those who are unfamiliar with this problem, here is an illustration: We tend to observe, day after day, the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. This consistent pattern gives us the confidence to be sure that the sun will continue to behave in this way. We try to predict the future behaviour of things by examining how they have behaved in the past. However there’s one catch: we do not have absolute certainty that just because something behaved a certain way in the past, it will continue to behave that way in the future. It is entirely conceivable that one day the sun will simply stop rising and setting.

Hopefully this sheds light on why James’ objection is unfounded. Just because today “science” teaches that all things begun at the big bang, does not mean that it will continue to teach this tomorrow. In any case, there is nothing in the quotes he provides from the Upanishads that actually contradicts the current scientific consensus. He is just insisting on interpreting it with a hermeneutic of disagreement, rather than a hermeneutic of charity and openness. He seems to be seizing on certain words in the translation and using these to justify his rejection of something which he doesn’t truly understand.

2. Hinduism teaches that the universe is an illusion or maya:

“This whole world the illusion maker projects out of this [Brahman]. And in it by illusion the other is confined. Now, one should know that Nature is illusion, and that the Mighty Lord is the illusion maker” (Svetasvatara Upanishad 4.9-10).

But if this world is an illusion, then that would make scientific inquiry impossible. We would be unable to trust our own senses or believe anything at all. Yet Hindus use science all the time and act as if their senses are trustworthy. In this sense, Hinduism suffers from many of the same problems as Christian Science which teaches that death is just an illusion.

The notion that maya makes scientific enquiry impossible is a false implication. As James himself states, “Hindus use science all the time and act as if their senses are trustworthy”; surely this would clue him in to the fact that he’s missing something and doesn’t properly understand that which he is criticising.

Furthermore, he’s got the maya doctrine all wrong. Maya claims that the descriptions of events in the Hindu Scriptures are “more real” than the mundane reality we perceive day to day. The colour and beauty described in the Indian Scriptures is not often seen and manifested in day to day life. The doctrine of Maya claims that these poetic descriptions are “more real” than the reality we currently inhabit. The doctrine of Maya does not claim that everything is just an illusion. Our reality is still real, just less so than the “true” reality which is hiding behind all things.

3. Hinduism offers no means for atonement in this life or assurance of salvation.

There is no forgiveness in Hinduism, only reincarnation into a lower caste of people to pay off the sins from our previous life. The caste system is inherently racist and forbids marriage between the castes. It condemns people to a life of poverty and is cruel to the poor. It justifies the attitude that poor people are getting what they deserve so there is no incentive to help those who are poor and suffering.

This criticism of Hinduism is inaccurate, and flows from a culturally imperialistic attitude towards other faiths and cultures. Unlike Christianity, Hinduism does not see the world primarily in terms of sin, guilt, forgiveness and retribution. These categories are relevant to Hinduism, but Hindus and Buddhists see the world through the lens of samsara: the cycle of birth and rebirth that carries on for all eternity. The primary problem to be solved according to Hinduism is not guilt and sin, but instead eternal suffering. Salvation is called moksha and is conceived of as an escape from this eternal cycle of suffering into a state of permanent and everlasting bliss. According to certain schools of Hinduism, there is indeed an assurance of achieving Moksha. According to other schools there is no such assurance. This is similar to the divide between Catholic and Protestant Christianity on the issue of assurance. (Perhaps James is the sort of person who would not acknowledge that Catholics are also fellow believers worthy of the title “Christian”. He’ll have to let us know in the comments)

I am however happy for now to agree with his criticism of the caste system. But my agreement is provisional, as I don’t actually know enough about it to accurately pass judgement.

4. Hinduism is filled with pagan religious practices which demonstrate its human origin.

I remember a great illustration from my Biblical Counseling class with Paul David Tripp where he told a story about how he visited India once and entered into a Hindu temple where the people were bowing down before statues of male and female private parts. He was so revolted by what he saw that he ran out of the temple as quickly as he could. Then he realized the disgust he felt is how God sees his sin.

Hindus still do this today as you can see from this sad video. Some Hindus even worship rats and other animals as Paul warned against in Romans 1:22-23. Historically, Hindus practiced sati where widows were burned alive with the bodies of their husbands. It was only because of the work of Christians in India who raised awareness about this evil practice that resulted in it being banned.

The attitude that “Pagan = bad. Bible = good” really irks me. Non-Christian philosophies, theologians, religions and traditions have so much to offer us; so much beauty and richness of thought. Rather than having a knee jerk reaction to practices such as those performed by the Hindus, we should seek to understand why they do what they do, and then try and replicate that in our own traditions. We should strive for unity and ecumenism with those who are different from us, rather than further division, schism and disunity. It is important to acknowledge our differences, but rather than allowing those differences to serve as a wall that divides us, we should treat them as the beautiful manifestations of God that they are, and then come together in love, charity, dialogue and understanding.

I think James’ analysis of what the Hindus are actually up to is not 100% accurate. Hindus don’t worship rats, they worship Brahman; the supreme godhead. However just as Christians worship God through Christ, (and Catholics through the Eucharist), so too Hindus worship God through many and various mundane intermediary objects. It might look like idolatry, but it’s not.

5. Hinduism is not a faith grounded in real historical events.

There is no corroborating evidence for Hinduism outside of its sacred texts. In contrast, Christianity is rooted in the historical events of the Bible, a book grounded in history. And there are good answers for those who object to the historical reliability of the Bible.

I personally know many Hindus who would dispute this point. I have no dog in the fight either way, but I would tend towards agreeing with my Hindu mates rather than James here. The bible is a beautiful mixture of mythology and history, and sometimes it’s hard to separate the factual core of the stories from the surrounding poetic embellishment (The Genesis creation stories are notorious for this. I’d be curious to see if James holds to a strictly literal interpretation). It is exactly the same with Hinduism. There is definitely a historical core to many of the Hindu tales, but it’s tricky to work out what is fact and what is embellishment.

6. The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the Bible, fulfilled prophecy, and history is overwhelming.

I have already written about the evidence for the resurrection of Christ in this article.

7. The Bible is filled with incredible prophecies which confirm its truthfulness.

While there are many prophecies in the Bible about the kingdoms of this world and the coming of Jesus, the most incredible one is the messianic prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 which gives us the exact date when the Messiah would die.

I don’t actually disagree with these two points at all. The evidence for the resurrection is vast and astonishing. However it is somewhat odd that James includes this in a blog post aimed at criticising Hinduism. Isn’t it completely irrelevant to the argument? I imagine his thought process is something along the lines of “If Christianity is true, then everything else must be wrong”, but of course, that simply does not follow in any way. Both Christianity and Hinduism can be 100% true and compatible, but the only way we are going to see that is if we approach each of them in a spirit of charity and ecumenism, with a willingness to listen and entertain foreign ideas and world-views.

I will register one small reservation about point 7. Just because a book accurately predicts future events, does not automatically prove that every single other thing that it reports is correct and truthful. I don’t mean this as an attack on the bible, as I myself am happy to affirm that it is 100% true (with qualifications). I simply mean to point out that it is fallacious to claim that a couple of prophecies that were fulfilled in a book prove the entire book 100% inerrant and infallible. The biblical prophecies also tend to be incredibly vague and open to interpretation; it is rather telling that James is willing to entertain these non-specific prophecies whilst nonchalantly rejecting anything that the Hindu scriptures have to say without giving them any further thought.

Conclusion

I don’t mean this post as an attack on James. I’m sure he’s a lovely guy and his congregation is blessed to have him as a pastor. But I think his rejection of Hinduism is incredibly rash and ill-informed, if the reasons he reports in his post are to be believed. Hinduism is a beautiful and colourful family of traditions, and Christians would do well to seek out and meet Hindus, and perform interfaith exchanges with them. We have so much to share with each other and teach each other, so let us come together and edify each other, rather than bashing each other over the head with holy books and demanding that we renounce one faith for another. As the classic meme goes: “Why can’t we have both?”

 

 

Pluralism is the Gospel – Saint Paul and Evangelism

RSV-CE 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

What Would Your ideal Religion Look Like? “The Evangelical Cult of the Eschaton, Epektasis and Apokatastasis”

It is interesting to consider how you would live your life if you had no institution (or holy book) telling you what to do. What rules would you invent for yourself? What beliefs would you consider to be dogmatic and “essential”? My core conviction is that every religion is fundamentally missing the point, and the one true Gospel of Apokatastasis is a message of hope that transcends all religious categories. As such, any attempt to invent a new code of conduct and set of beliefs is doomed to failure. Nevertheless, it is an interesting exercise to try and come up with your own ideal religion. Here is my attempt:

The Evangelical Cult of the Epektasis, Eschaton and Apokatastasis

Every religion comes with a set of practices, rules or laws, a set of beliefs, and some sort of hierarchy of authority. Here is my outline of my ideal faith.

The Law and Practice

The following precepts are “opt-in”, which is to say that they are recommendations, not requirements (ie, failure to observe them is not a “sin” deserving of punishment, damnation, and Hell). However the more strictly they are observed, the greater the benefit and reward that will be reaped.

  1. Monday to Saturday are fasting and penitential days all year round:
    1. Must eat a diet that consists solely of fruit, vegetables and fish.
    2. Must only have a single meal and fast for the rest of the day. No snacking permitted. (It is up to your discretion as to when to take the meal. Dinner, breakfast or lunch are all acceptable options. Try to be consistent)
    3. Must abstain from all recreational drugs. (Medicine is permissible)
    4. Must abstain from all sexual activity. (Cuddles and kisses are ok)
    5. You must follow a regimented, disciplined schedule:
      1. Must wake up at 6am every day and sleep at 10pm every night.
      2. Must turn off all electronic technology by 9pm every night.
      3. From 6am-7am, must perform some sort of moderate to high intensity exercise (eg. weights, swimming, running, etc)
      4. From 7am-8am, must practice some sort of creative or artistic pursuit. (eg, practice an instrument, music software, write poetry, paint or draw a picture)
      5. From 8am-8:30am, must practice meditation, prayer and contemplation. (Can choose a meditative practice from any of the world’s mystical traditions)
      6. From 8:30am-9am, must continue practising mindfulness, while also commuting to work or whatever else you have to attend to that day.
      7. From 8pm-9pm, must spend time reading non-fiction and learning things. Scripture study is also appropriate.
      8. From 9pm-10pm, may read fiction, or listen to music. Anything chill and recreational that will help you sleep.
  2. Every Sunday is a feast day:
    1. You may disregard the Monday to Saturday schedule completely.
    2. You are required to eat all three standard daily meals (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
    3. You are permitted to eat anything. No dietary restrictions are in force
    4. You are not permitted to work on Sunday. (“Work” defined as any action which earns an income from a business or employer)
    5. You must make use of some sort of “Safe” recreational drug. (Cannabis with whiskey is a good option for just chilling out and relaxing. Psychedelics are a good choice for spiritual growth)
    6. You should release all the sexual energy you’ve saved up throughout the week
      1. If you are married, you should schedule some time to make love to your spouse.
      2. If you are single, you should make love to yourself. Guys should have a good fap and girls should have a good schlick. Pornography is permissible, but make sure that no one in the clip is being exploited. (Kink.com are an “Ethical” studio where everyone is consenting, having fun and being appropriately compensated for example)
  3. You must engage in missionary activity and evangelism to spread the religion:
    1. You must convert to every religion simultaneously as far as you are able to (See the doctrines and beliefs for elaboration)
    2. When evangelising someone, you must strive to truly agree with everything they say, and fully understand their perspective, so as to affirm everything that they affirm. Only once you have done this will you be able to successfully and effectively proclaim the promise of the Gospel. Remember the Dominican maxim: “Never deny, Seldom affirm, Always distinguish”.
    3. There is a single sacrament, and it is ex opere operato: The preaching of the Gospel Promise.
  4. If your job contradicts any part of this law, you must either quit the job or fight for religious accommodations in your workplace.

The Doctrines and Beliefs

This religion is a minimalist religion. There are only 5 core beliefs:

  1. You must believe in the Gospel of Apokatastasis:
  2. You must believe in Antinomianism:
    • There is nothing we have to do in order to be saved, achieve nirvana, experience moksha etc etc. We do not have to follow any law, whether it be religious or secular. We don’t have to love, we don’t have to have faith, we don’t have to get baptised etc.
    • We are not “required” to love, but we are instead “free” to love. The opportunity to Love is an invitation, an honour, a privilege and a gift; it is not a religious requirement that must be fulfilled in order to be saved.
    • Despite the fact that we are not under any law, we must willingly put ourselves under every law. We must become Muslim to the Muslims, Hindu to the Hindus, Christian to the Christians etc.
  3. You must believe in Pluralism:
    • Every religion is 100% true. But every religion is missing the point (which is the Gospel of Apokatastasis. See point 1)
    • All contradictions between religions are merely apparent contradictions, which are to be resolved through prayer, dialogue and ecumenism.
  4. You must believe in the Ordo Salutis:
    • The Great Apostasy: All religious institutions have been compromised by Satan and as a result, fail to proclaim the promise of the Gospel clearly and loudly. Despite the fact that nothing they teach is strictly speaking “wrong”, all institutions have been infiltrated by demons and suppress the truth.
    • Damnation: To follow any authority other than your soul as God himself is to be enslaved to Satan. If you claim that the church, or the Qu’ran, or the Bible, or the Vedas is the highest authority, you have been captured by the prince of darkness and enslaved to his lies.
    • Hell: Failure to believe and affirm these doctrines means that a person is walking in darkness, and experiencing eternal damnation at this very moment.
    • Evangelism: Someone who is already enlightened and trusts the Gospel promise has the power to enlighten and save others by the proclamation of the promise. But people who are stuck in the darkness have no power to save themselves or anyone else.
    • Salvation: Believing in the Gospel promise just is salvation. To have faith in the Gospel promise is to experience divine joy and be saved. This is not something that someone can “do”; it is instead a gift given from one person to another, when the promise is spoken with power and authority.
  5. You must believe in the four fundamental axioms of theological metaphysics:
    1. The Doctrine of Advaita: Your innermost core identity (loosely, “the soul”) is God himself. The same applies for everyone and everything else.
    2. Divine Simplicity: God has no components. All of God’s attributes and manifestations and emanations are in actual fact in a relationship of perichoresis and interpenetration: I am you and you are me and we are God and God is all of us; God’s love is God’s mercy and God’s mercy is God’s justice, and all of these things are equal to the essence of God.
    3. Apophaticism: The ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate truth. There is a certain emptiness and nothingness that applies to God and the soul. God is both total fullness and complete emptiness, maximal existence and utter non-existence; God transcends all distinctions.
    4. Theosis: Salvation consists of realising these truths and fully understanding them with your entire being. The goal of life is to realise your fundamental and essential unity with the emptiness of God.

Every denial is considered to be heresy under this religion. To deny anything is to be wrong: Only affirmations are true. The worst possible heresy is to deny Apokatastasis, Pluralism or Antinomianism. As an example, it is permissible to affirm that the vast majority of humanity (or even everyone) will be damned forever, however it is impermissible to deny that all will be saved. Similarly, it is permissible to affirm that there are mistakes and errors in a religion, but it is impermissible to deny that every religion is 100% true. At face value this might seem contradictory, but part of the joy of doing theology is to resolve such apparent contradictions. This is also the only way to achieve unity and avoid sectarianism.

The Religious Hierarchy

This religion is explicitly anti-institutional.

  1. The highest authority is God himself, which according to the doctrine of Advaita is the individual soul. As such, a man is subject to no book, cleric or hierarchy: He is master of his own life, and no one can compel him to do anything.
  2. Nevertheless, due to the doctrine of Pluralism, we recognise every religious and secular hierarchy as being instituted by God, and therefore submit ourselves to all of them simultaneously. We respect the authority of the Catholic Pope, the LDS Prophet, the Ayatollah, the bishops, the sheiks and etc. Insofar as they do not compel us to go against our beliefs, we follow their guidance diligently.
  3. A believer in the Gospel of Apokatastasis is not permitted to climb the ranks of a religious institution, for to do so would be to become enslaved to said institution. We must always locate ourselves at the bottom of every hierarchy, for the closer you get to the top and the further you move from the bottom, the more you become compromised by the demonic powers.

Conclusion

And there you have it. The ultimate religion. What would your ideal religion look like if you could invent one? Feel free to answer in the comments.

 

De Praeultramontanissimo – Assessing the Threat of Papal Totalitarianism

Introduction

From the ten questions proposed for the subject of this essay I have decided to answer the following: “The Petrine Office is more like a constitutional monarchy than an absolute monarchy. Discuss.” In short, my response is that the Petrine Office should be more like a constitutional monarchy than an absolute monarchy, but – according to the current state of Catholic Dogma – it is not. It is true that recent Popes (roughly from the 1900s on) have acted as if the Petrine Office is a constitutional monarchy – with Pope Francis in particular administering his office in a very collegial manner – but in this paper I will propose that there is nothing in current Catholic dogma and canon law which would prevent a rogue Pope from governing the church in the way of a totalitarian dictator or despot, at least in the realm of doctrinal and dogmatic pronouncements. There appear to be loopholes in existing canon law and dogma which – while no Pope has yet exploited them – make room for a megalomaniacal Pope to define doctrine according to his whim and fancy. I argue that these loopholes are one of the key stumbling blocks (although there are undoubtedly others) that are preventing a grand ecumenical reunification between the Catholic church and the various other ancient Christian communions, in particular the Eastern Orthodox Church. Finally, I propose some steps that could be taken to secure the loophole.

The Problem of Papal Infallibility

The fourth chapter of the Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Pastor aeternus) makes the following dogmatic definition:

We teach and define that it is a dogma Divinely revealed that the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals, and that therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves and not from the consent of the Church irreformable.

So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.1

Note that there is nothing in this dogmatic definition which explicitly requires the Pope to consult the bishops first, even if that is what tends to happen and many Catholics believe that it is necessary. Rather, the dogma here even goes so far as to explicitly state that an infallible definition of the Pope is irreformable “of itself” and that the “consent of the church” is irrelevant. Slightly earlier in pastor aeternus there can be found this section:

For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.

This paragraph of the document is often cited and understood as a sort of “safeguard” against the possibility of Papal Infallibility being abused by an ambitious and nefarious Pope, however it seems clear to me that it does nothing of the sort. Firstly, the paragraph is very vague and subjective: How exactly in this context are we supposed to understand “new doctrine,” “the Revelation” and “the Deposit of Faith?” For example a Pope could feasibly define any doctrine and then defend it as being a crucial part of the Holy Tradition, so long as he is able to anchor his definition loosely in something that some church father or church doctor said long ago. Theologians may argue and dispute the definition and its theological foundations, but this would be paradoxical because Papal definitions are supposed to end debate over an issue rather than fan the flames.

Secondly, there is nothing in this supposed safeguard paragraph which clearly and precisely puts limits and boundaries on the exercise of infallibility. Catholics tend to assume that the Pope must first consult the college of bishops before promulgating a definition (and this has in fact been the historical precedent), however there is nothing in this safeguard passage, the actual dogmatic definition, or anywhere else in the encyclical which reveals this to be the case. As it stands, so long as the Pope claims that his new definition is in line with the tradition – no doubt marshalling some proof texts from scripture and the fathers in the process – there are no hard and fast checks and balances to stop him. If a Pope were to go ahead and define something really controversial – for example the doctrine of ἀποκατάστασις – he would be well within his dogmatic and canonical rights to do so, and the inevitable result would be massive schisms, furious theological debates, and relentless proliferation of anti-popes and sedevacantist splinter groups.

In short there is nothing in the dogma as stated in pastor aeternus which requires the Pope to consult the bishops before exercising his infallibility, contrary to the common understanding among Catholics. This is a big loophole in the Catholic system which I advise would be wise to plug sooner rather than later.2

There is also a problem of hermeneutics. Protestants often convert to Catholicism in order to escape the doctrinal chaos of Protestantism,3 where everyone agrees that the scriptures are the highest authority but no one is able to agree on the correct interpretation of those same scriptures. Catholicism often is presented as an attractive solution to the conundrum, in that the magisterium is a living authority which is able to provide definitive interpretation of the scriptures and traditions of the church. Some (but not all) of these Protestant converts eventually go on to discover that the problem of interpretation has not actually been solved by their conversion, and has in fact been pushed back a step; rather than debating the meaning of scriptural verses, now theologians have to debate the meaning of Papal pronouncements and canons of councils. If anything, their life has been made more difficult: Where before the Christian only had to confront a 66 book bible, now she has to wrangle with two millennia of Church documents, liturgies, councils and papal pronouncements, and all the while there still is no official hermeneutical key available by which all theologians are able to come to agreement. In practice the solution adopted by many Catholics is simply to obey and submit to whatever the leaders of the church are saying, which is why it is important that the Catholic system is able to effectively maintain consensus, consistency and cohesion among those leaders. An official hermeneutic which is simple enough for anyone to apply would arguably solve the problem – more on this below.

All of these concerns apply particularly to the papal pronouncements made under the conditions of infallibility; even once the pronouncement has been made, there is no official hermeneutic specified for interpreting the statement; as such, the statement is open to many various interpretations and these may even change, multiply or fade away as time goes by. A contemporary example of this phenomenon would be the hermeneutical controversy and chaos in the church over the correct interpretation of Amoris Laetitia: Some Catholic authorities have interpreted the document as if it permits communion to be given to divorced and remarried couples, while other Catholic authorities have interpreted it in such a way that they arrive at the opposite conclusion. This shows how even when a Pope promulgates a teaching, the problem of hermeneutics is not automatically solved and the Pope’s statements can always be interpreted in a variety of ways, with some of these ways being mutually exclusive. I suggest that it might be helpful to take action to clamp down on these hermeneutical ambiguities.

A Proposed Solution

I propose four action points to solve the problem:

  1. The infallibility of both Papal pronouncements and the canons of ecumenical councils should be re-framed as divine clarification: an open canon of inspired statements serving as an interpretive complement to the closed canon of scripture.

  2. The role of the papacy should be canonically and dogmatically reshaped such that it does indeed look more like a constitutional monarchy, rather than an absolute one. Specifically, the Church should officially ratify the common Catholic understanding that the Pope must consult his bishops (via ecumenical council) prior to promulgating a dogma.

  3. An official fundamental theology should be established and adopted, along with a simple and elegant hermeneutic for interpreting it.

  4. A new ecumenical council should promptly be held in order to canonically ratify and dogmatically implement points 1, 2 and 3.

Divine Clarification

In one sense this point is something of a “branding” issue. I would argue that the Catholic church already has a system of divine clarification in place, but without explicitly referring to it as such. I suggest that recognising this element of the Catholic doctrinal and dogmatic framework for what it is will gift Catholics with a more definite and perspicuous faith.

As it stands, the canon of divine clarification is open – which is desirable – but it is also fuzzy and ill-defined, which is problematic and – I argue – leads to an economic problem: the misuse of theological human resources. By this I mean that much time, effort and energy is spent among lay Catholics disputing what is and what is not the official church stance on various doctrinal and practical issues, and – more worrying still – this same debate is raging in the higher theological echelons of the Catholic church, with bishops and theologians disputing amongst each other over which church statements are and are not infallible. To take one example, some theologians consider the question of female ordination to be closed once and for all by what they take to be an infallible definition in the writings of Pope Saint John Paul II, and yet other theologians dispute this and so the debate and politics over the matter continues to this day.

Divine clarification in this context of interpretive chaos and confusion could be analogously understood as a form of continuing revelation. I propose that it would be helpful to collate and identify another official inspired text to which statements can be added as time goes by and from which no statement can be abrogated once included. The text would essentially be an infallible collection of infallible dogmas. It would be similar to Denzinger’s “Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum,” but less messy and haphazard (The Enchiridion strikes one as a dumping ground of clippings and creeds from various church documents that have been composed during the course of Christian history, rather than a clear and concise dictionary of infallible doctrines). Likewise, it would be similar to Ludwig Ott’s Fundamental Theology – which includes simple, precise dogmatic formulas – but stripped of all commentary. The purpose of the text would simply be to concisely and perspicuously present a list of infallible and inspired dogmatic statements, which would be a hermeneutical key that any Catholic can use to interpret the deposit of faith, and can themselves also be interpreted by the faithful.

If this recommendation were followed, it would provide an agreed focal point for theological discussion and debate amongst Catholics, whether they be lay, clerical or academic. Rather than having to sift through 2000 years of church documents and argue for or against the dogmatic status of various statements; Catholics would instead focus their attention on this single canonical text of divine clarification which presents a complete and up to date compilation of all statements thus far considered to be infallible, inspired and of the highest (De Fide) authority.

I have dwelt on this matter of fundamental theology and dogmatics because below I will be frequently referring to this proposed canon of divine clarification. I will suggest a framework for governing the relationship between the Pope, the college of bishops, and this proposed new and inspired canonical text.

Comparison with Mormonism

It is relevant to quickly note a comparison between this proposal and the way the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints operates. The Mormons have an open canon of scripture and revelation which includes the King James Bible, the Book of Mormon, and a book very similar to the one I have proposed here called “The Doctrine and Covenants.” Unlike the Bible and the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants is an open canon of “sections,” with new sections added to the book slowly over time. Unlike the inspired text I have proposed here, the majority of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants read like private mystical experiences as recounted by saints; in comparison the text I am proposing would be a concise and perspicuous collection of dogmatic statements, more akin to Ludwig Ott’s text of Fundamental theology, but stripped of all commentary.

Papal Monarchy and Ecumenical Collegiality

The role of the papacy should be canonically and dogmatically reshaped such that it does indeed look more like a constitutional monarchy, rather than an absolute one. Taking the Australian political system as a model, the role of the Catholic Pope would be akin to the role of the Australian Governor General: His doctrinal infallibility would be restricted to either approving or denying the dogmatic canons of ecumenical councils. This would officially ratify the common Catholic understanding that the Pope must consult his bishops prior to promulgating a dogma, and make it explicit in canon law and church dogma what most Catholics seem to think is already the case: that the pope can only exercise his infallibility after consulting his bishops. This would hopefully be a big gesture towards the Eastern Orthodox, who would presumably appreciate some official bounds and limits being applied to the Papacy.

To be more precise, I propose that papal infallibility should be somehow limited such that the Pope’s only role in the dogmatic system is to ratify a council as being ecumenical. When a Pope identifies a council as being ecumenical, all of the dogmatic canons of that council are then inserted into the previously discussed canonical text of divine clarification. To state the point more clearly: the Pope would not be able pick and choose statements from councils to ratify; he must instead accept all of them at once. In this way, the bishops together in council would deliberate and decide on the dogmas, while the Pope would merely approve the decisions of the bishops as to what statements should be added to the canon of divine clarification. The Pope would also not be able to just construct infallible statements and promulgate them at his whim and pleasure: he would instead have to call a council and have the bishops of the council approve the statement first.

An important aside: Justice would be done to the first Vatican councils insistence that the Pope has universal jurisdiction, in that the Pope can anywhere and at any time exercise his infallibility as I have just defined it. In other words, the Pope could point to any council of bishops throughout Christian history and declare it to be an ecumenical council. The Pope could also call a new council at any time and propose statements to the bishops for approval. This would open up room for the Pope to accept Eastern Orthodox councils as ecumenical, or retroactively convey ecumenical status on a regional council that happened long ago. I should note that there is still the problem of working out which canons of a council should be added to the canon of divine clarification, even after that council has been identified by the Pope as ecumenical. I will comment on this further below.

Comparison with the Australian System of Government

There are parallels between the system I have described and the way that the Australian Government operates. The Pope would be akin to the governor general of Australia. A new law is not officially ratified in the Australian system until it has been approved by the governor general, and the governor general cannot just invent and implement laws out of the blue. One difference is that the Pope would be able to at least propose new dogmas to the college of bishops, which is something not often seen in the Australian system.

Perhaps there would also be a similarity to the Australian interplay between the upper and lower houses of parliament. Bills often pass back and forth between the upper and lower houses of parliament, accruing revisions along the way before being finally passed or rejected. In a similar fashion, both the Pope and the bishops could veto each other’s statements and argue for changes and revisions to any proposed dogmatic statements before they are finally ratified into the canon of divine clarification. The Pope would have the final say on what dogmatic statements are in and out, but the bishops would have crucial input and possess a degree of collegial veto power.

An Official Fundamental Theology

Under my proposals, the discipline of fundamental theology would still be required, but its importance would be much less than it is today. This is because the canon of divine clarification would no longer be fuzzy and ill-defined. The inspired text containing the canon of divine clarification would be a focal point that Catholics could refer to. Fundamental theology would still be a relevant discipline because there would still be two millennia of church documents and creeds to analyse, but there would no longer be ambiguity about which statements are inspired, infallible and possess the highest authority, because all such statements would be easily accessible in the new canonical text of divine clarification.

There are however certain questions that need to be answered. Firstly, if a Pope decides to identify a council from long ago as ecumenical, which statements of that council are to be included in the inspired canon of divine clarification and which are not? This is a question which needs to be rigorously worked out and definitively answered, and it is beyond my competence at this time to propose a concrete solution. However as a tentative example of the form a solution might take, if a canonical statement from a council is concluded with the phrase “anathema sit,” perhaps this would be taken as an indication that the fathers of that council meant to proclaim a dogma. Another simple solution to the problem would be to revisit old councils under the new system: the canons and anathemas of previous councils could be submitted to the bishops of today in a modern council for revision and discussion, before being finally ratified into the canon of divine clarification.

A second question is the more direct issue of hermeneutics and language. Do translations of the canon of divine clarification possess equal authority to the original text? This question is again outside my area of competency at this time, but my proposal would be that statements should only be considered authoritative in the original language that they were promulgated. However, it would be possible for the bishops in council to also promulgate official translations, and these translations would be considered equal in inspiration and authority to the originals. In this way, dogmatic statements may be promulgated in any language, or even multiple languages simultaneously, and each version of the statement would be understood to stand on its own and possess equal authority and inspiration.

Case Study: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

Even after taking all of this into account, the fundamental hermeneutic problem remains: Once a statement has been included in the canonical text of divine clarification, how is it to be understood? A hermeneutic needs to be specified. It needs to be a hermeneutic which does full justice to the original intent of the canons, but is also flexible enough to avoid “shackling the spirit:” The Holy Spirit can say many different things to many different people through a single statement of scripture, and this would also apply to the statements of the canon of divine clarification.

To take one example, when it was originally promulgated the doctrine of extra ecclesiam nulla sallus (“outside the church there is no salvation”) arguably meant that anyone who dies without converting to Catholicism is certainly damned. However since the time of the second Vatican council this dogmatic formula has been creatively reinterpreted to give a more inclusive meaning. This phenomenon of reinterpretation may be desirable or undesirable, and so it would be helpful if the Church could officially decide on a hermeneutic which either removes or enables these ambiguities.

Vatican III: A New Council

My final proposal is that another ecumenical council should promptly be called, purely for the purpose of implementing the previous suggestions. At this council the bishops would sift through the history of councils gone before and select any creeds and canons which they would like to add to the canon of divine clarification. This would explicitly and definitively clarify which parts of the Christian tradition are infallible and inspired, and would put an end to speculations and arguments about whether or not a statement from a pope or council is infallible. During this new ecumenical council, all the many statements that fundamental theologians tend to argue over can be considered and a firm decision finally made, with a new canon perhaps being produced in response.

When sifting through the list of councils, the Catholic bishops would also examine councils that took place in eastern Christendom after the great schism. There are some councils which are considered to be ecumenical in the east, at least at a popular level. Any such councils which are generally held by the Eastern Orthodox to be ecumenical could be adopted by Catholics at their new ecumenical council. This notion might sound strange to Catholic ears, and a faithful Catholic might respond with confusion: “How could we adopt a council as ecumenical if there wasn’t a single Catholic bishop present!” But it is important to consider the matter charitably: this sentiment is exactly how many Eastern Orthodox Christians feel towards the purely “Latin” councils of Catholicism. Eastern Orthodox Christians may be more likely to accept Catholic ecumenical councils as ecumenical if Catholics are willing to at least consider Orthodox ecumenical councils in return.

In adopting the councils of the Eastern Orthodox, there will of course be some theological tension. To take just one example, many Eastern Orthodox councils have in the past been heavily influenced by the Eastern theological and mystical traditions of Palamism and Hesychasm, whereas western councils have tended to lean strongly towards Thomistic theology. I suggest that the council fathers of the proposed new council should be fearless in adopting canons from both East and West, even if they appear contradictory at first glance. This will force future theologians to respect both theological camps and construct a robust theological synthesis, rather than prejudicing only one side of the argument.

Conclusion

When examining the historical record, one could be forgiven for assuming that the Papacy is a constitutional monarchy: Popes have thus far governed the church with much assistance from the college of bishops. However canonically and dogmatically speaking, there does not seem to be any official safeguards built into the Catholic system to prevent a Pope from becoming an absolute dictator in the realm of doctrine, dogma, faith and morals. I have argued that this threat is real and serious, and if left unchecked it could quite easily lead to chaos and schism in the church. I have proposed four points of action which – if implemented – might help to prevent any such crisis from ever occurring.

Bibliography

Madrid, Patrick. Surprised by Truth. Manchester, New Hampshire. Sophia Institute Press, 1994

Madrid, Patrick. Surprised by Truth 2. Manchester, New Hampshire. Sophia Institute Press, 2000

Madrid, Patrick. Surprised by Truth 3. Manchester, New Hampshire. Sophia Institute Press, 2002

1Vatican Council, Sess. IV, Const. de Ecclesiâ Christi, Chapter iv

2Due to time constraints on this assignment, I was not able to do an exhaustive survey of canon law and tradition so as to discover if there are any other checks and balances available to the Catholic system. I have based this paper purely on the dogmatic definition in pastor aeternus. This would be an interesting area for further research.

3There are many testimonies of people converting to Catholicism for this reason in the Surprised by Truth and Coming Home series of books.

Beautiful Heresy 101 – Jesus Was a Heretic

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Remember, Jesus himself was considered a Heretic by the religious authorities of the day.

Heretics are the ones we should listen to most closely, for they are prophets that have seen God in ways that explode our dogmatic categories.

Do you really expect that saying “Agree with me or go to Hell!” will convert your opponents heart? No! This is why every anathema is always just another schism.

If the church ever says “anathema sit“, you know that it is Satan speaking, not God. In God everything is affirmation, and nothing is denial. When the church condemns, it is always just Satan trying to crush the prophets of the age by ecclesiastical fiat.

So listen closely to the Origens, Ariuses, Pelagiuses, Nestoriuses, Luthers, Calvins and Robertses of the day: They have discovered something important and profound, and it is only by listening to them that we will avoid further schism and maintain the unity of the church.