Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Imperial Cult and Martyrdom

Would early Christians find devotions to the saints akin to worship of the Roman Emperor? Is worship of the emperor akin to the worship of mary? (hyperdulia).

We should keep in mind that the RCC only considers an act to be worship if a sacrifice is made. So, for RCs, offering incense to the statue of the emperor would be worship. (Biblically though, worship can also be contrition, prayers etc.) I believe this is a distinction with no difference--many Christians were martyred for refusing to worship a being they certainly thought were lower than the Triune God.

For Lutherans, to worship is to receive the gifts God offers in the preaching of the word and in Holy Baptism, Holy Communion and absolution. So, for us any veneration in exchange for such blessings would be wrongful worship, which is due only to God.

Now, let us start with the Martyrdom of Polycarp.

Chapter 8
“What harm is there in saying, Lord Cæsar, and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, and so make sure of safety?”

Sacrifice was specifically requested. Thus, as a Christian, he could not offer this worship toward the Emperor.

Chapter 9
“Have respect to your old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as], “Swear by the fortune of Cæsar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists. hen Polycarp with solemn countenance looked upon the whole multitude of lawless heathen that were in the stadium, and waved his hand to them; and groaning and looking up to heaven he said, 'Away with the atheists.'”

No sacrifice, but a specific request to renounce the Christians--“Away with the Atheists”. Polycarp adroitly turned the "Away with the atheists" statement around, but he did not do so with swearing by Caesar, because that would be worship.

Chapter 10
“Swear by the fortune of Cæsar,”

No sacrifice, no denunciation. In other words, no worship. It sounds like the proconsul was ready do compromise. For Lutherans, swearing by the fortune of Caesar constitutes worship, because to do so is to ask for a supernatural benefit from a mere man.

Now, though the emperors were called "gods", we should keep in mind that the actual term used was "divus" or "divine", a lesser state of deity, if you will. Hence, the emperor was not offered latraea. So, even the Roman Emperors were not worshiped in the same way a Christian would worship the Triune God, he was a lower order of being--similar to St. Mary and the other saints.

So, what does RC Marian devotion look like?

Another recommended Marian devotion is wearing the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There are many Scapulars, all valuable, but this one is eminent among them. There is a very ancient tradition that St. Simon Stock, Superior of the Carmelite Order in England in 1251, after imploring the help of Our Lady, was favored with a vision in which she gave him the Scapular, saying: "This will be a privilege for you and for all Carmelites, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire." The historical evidence for this vision is very impressive, and gives at least some degree of moral certitude that the vision really did take place. To gain this promise one must be enrolled in the Confraternity of the Scapular. Pope Pius XII, on the 700th anniversary of this vision, wrote to the Major Superiors of the Carmelites, clearly showing his belief in it: "For not with a light or passing matter are we here concerned, but with the obtaining of eternal life itself, which is the substance of the Promise of the Most Blessed Virgin which has been handed down to us."

However, the Pope warned that the mere physical wearing of the Scapular is not enough: "May it be to them a sign of their Consecration to the Most Sacred Heart of the Immaculate Virgin, which in recent times we have so strongly recommended." If one then uses the Scapular as the outward sign of living such a Marian consecration, then faith in the fulfillment of the promise is well justified. In fact, Pope Pius XI said (Explorata res. Feb. 2, 1923): "Nor would he incur eternal death whom the Most Blessed virgin assists, especially at his last hour. This opinion of the Doctors of the Church, in harmony with the sentiments of the Christian people, and supported by the experience of all times, depends especially on this reason: the fact that the Sorrowful Virgin shared in the work of the Redemption with Jesus Christ." In other words, a solid Marian devotion is certain to bring one close to Jesus Christ, and so will assure one of reaching salvation, even if the vision to St. Simon Stock might not be authentic. Also, when Vatican II said that all things recommended by the Magisterium of the Church towards her should still be considered matters of great importance, the Scapular was clearly included, for numerous Popes have recommended it strongly.
From a Lutheran standpoint, this is worship--performing pilgrimage to carry out a change within us.

Clearly, one consecrates one's self to St. Mary, and receives a guarantee of salvation so long as one's devotion is true. Of course, I am aware that RCs believe this salvation actually comes from Jesus. My concern here though, is do discern how the RCs differentiate between the devotion to the vergin via the scapular, and merely swearing by the genius of one's ruler. Clearly neither is "worship" in the RC sense--nothing is sacrificed. However, Christians were willing to die in order to avoid a simple act of obeisance to the emperor, while similar devotion to St. Mary is encouraged. What, in the Imperial cult, made throwing incense in the name of the Emperor’s “genius” idolatry, while invoking Our Lady Mary to save us is not?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Finnish Lutheran blog

I received this link from Dr. Tighe. I highly recommend it. It is really meaty and interesting to boot.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Confessional Church in Germany has some cool videos

This video is from our sister church in Germany, the SELK. it is about the new Luther Center in Wittenberg. Have a look:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Luther, Apologists and the Canon

Very often, RC apologists will claim that Luther wanted to remove books from the Bible, usually the Epistle of St. James is used as an example. Luther supposedly, on his own authority, wanted to remove the Epistle of St. James from the canon. I think this argument, like the 20,000-denominations-from-Sola-Scriptura argument belongs on the trash heap of apologetics.

First, regarding the questioning of the authenticity and authority of the antilegomana (books spoken against, i.e. challenged as to their authenticity) being something Luther invented. I will point out that the category of antilegomena is a very old one, and questioning the authority of the antilegomena has an ancient pedigree, going back to Jerome and even further. More than that, Cajetan (the Cardinal by whom Luther was examined for heresy) and Erasmus both questioned the authenticity of the antilegomena, and they were Luther's contemporaries.

Regarding Erasmus, the Catholic Encyclopedia states:

In these publications the attitude of Erasmus towards the text of the New Testament is an extremely radical one, even if he did not follow out all its logical consequences. In his opinion the Epistle of St. James shows few signs of the Apostolic spirit; the Epistle to the Ephesians has not the diction of St. Paul, and the Epistle to the Hebrews he assigns with some hesitation to Clement of Rome. In exegesis he favoured a cold rationalism and treated the Biblical narratives just as he did ancient classical myths, and interpreted them in a subjective and figurative, or, as he called it, allegorical, sense.
(The Catholic Encyclopedia

In a similar way to Luther, Erasmus thought that the Epistle of St. James did not have the "apostolic spirit". Yet somehow Erasmus escapes the wrath of RC apologists for "editing" the Bible.

Bruce Metzger wrote regarding Cajetan:

Even Cardinal Cajetan, Luther's opponent at Augsburg in 1518, gave an unhesitating approval to the Hebrew canon in his Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, which he dedicated in 1532 to pope Clement VII. He expressly called attention to Jerome's separation of the canonical from the uncanonical books, and maintained that the latter must not be relied upon to establish points of faith, but used only for the edification of the faithful.
(Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, p. 180)

Once again, we find a RC theologian saying something Luther more or less said, yet he too escapes the wrath of RC apologists.

The issue was settled for RCs by Trent, but Trent settled this after Luther had died. In other words, Luther's questioning of the antilegomena fell within the range of RC orthodoxy during his lifetime. For this reason, among others, the charge Luther on his own authority simply decided to remove some books is simply wrong--Luther was not behaving any differently from some of the ECFs as well as contemporary scholarship, when he challenged the anilegomena. He also included the disputed books in his edition of the Bible, so if Luther wanted to remove the antilegomena he sure missed the opportunity!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Not every Christian is a Lutheran--Until they are at death's door!

I believe Luther said somewhere that at the end, when we are about to die, all vanities are stripped away and we will only have Christ left. I have come across this before, and I always find it interesting when e.g. St, Therese says something very Lutheran sounding--yet remains a doctor of the Church.

Jack Fowler, a RC on National Review Online wrote:

So the Church errs in some matters. So teachings change. So traditions change. So, ultimately, what? When the time comes, the One Truth that is supreme is all that matters. Friday abstinence, the Pythagorean Theorem, Darwinism, the boiling blood of St. Januarius (coming this Saturday at the Cathedral of San Gennaro in Naples) – all of this evaporates in meaning and relevance when one engages Christ’s presence. So says WFB. I agree.

I think that is about right--at the end most if not all our theologies, apologetic arguments, epistemology will be swallowed up in Christ, the God-Man, Truth in the flesh. I believe that most if not all Christians will experience something like this at death's door. And this type of focus on the mercy and love Jesus is one of the hallmarks of Lutheran theology. I do not mean this as a dig towards other Christians, I just think that where they end up is more or less where we start.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pro "Choice" Pols insist on receiving Communion at papal Mass

It appears that some Pro "choice" pols think they have a right to commune with the pope, and in the process may make the pope's pronouncements to look, well, ineffectual:

"Catholic members of Congress who publicly support the right to abortion will trek to Nationals Park Thursday for a Mass celebrated by a pope who has said such lawmakers should not receive Communion.

Leading these lawmakers, some of whom have repeatedly complained about remarks by Pope Benedict XVI and a few bishops on the subject, will be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the government's highest-ranking Catholic and a supporter of abortion rights. Nowhere in her remarks or her actions this week has she referred to strains with the new pontiff....

... And yes, her spokesman said, she intends to receive Communion from one of the 300 priests and lay ministers who will offer it to the gathered flock of 45,000."

The pope is supposed to be the infallible Vicar of Christ when teaching about faith and morals. RC apologists claim he is a sort firewall for false teaching. If the pope says a politician, or anyone else, should not receive--they should not receive.

If Pelosi does commune in the face of papal pronouncements though, who will listen to a papal pronouncement in the future? It is as if a Lutheran pastor gave a sermon stating the obvious--Mormons cannot receive communion, and then proceeded to commune some Mormon visitors. It completely undermines the authority of the pastor and makes him look like a wind bag. The same thing here. The pope, the guy who is supposed to put a stop to heresy, cannot even stop a legislator from receiving Communion at his own Mass.

And then there is this too:

"If Catholic legislators are scorned and held out for ridicule by Church leaders on the basis of a single issue, the Church will lose strong advocates on a wide range of issues that relate to the core of important Catholic social teaching," they wrote. "Moreover, criticism of us on a matter that is essentially one of personal morality will deter other Catholics from entering politics, and in the long run the Church will suffer."

Notice the implicit threat--let us commune or else there will be consequences! This only increases the problem though, because not only will these pols disregard a clear teaching of the RCC, but they threaten the Church that if it deigns to try and live by its own pronouncements, it had better watch out! In other words, this is even more reason not to commune a flagrant sinner--he insists there will be consequences if his wishes are not fulfilled.

Also, notice the post-modern habit of distilling everything down to "personal morality". I find this appalling. And on another level, what use is papal infallibility, and papal authority, if one can flout the pope on such an important issue and simply do what one pleases? It seems to me Luther was excommunicated and remains so for much, much less. I never thought murder was a private matter, neither does the pope. But apparently, the pope won't act on that conviction.

The principle is rather straight forward; if someone in our congregation is a thief, the pastor would not necessarily excommunicate him. But if he publicly advocates thievery, and persists in his own thievery in public and then demands communion, the pastor would rightly excommunicate him, basically saying "Until you repent, we turn you over to Satan" just a St. Paul did. It is the case, is it not, that flagrant public sin excludes one from the Lord's Table. The critique of the papacy would more or less write itself--the pope said they shouldn't receive because they advocate the murder of the unborn, then he allowed them to at a mass over which he presided. So much for the "fiat currency" of what the pope says--especially these circumstances. In my opinion, this turns the pope's words to mere ink or recycled electrons, because they can obviously be ignored even when he presides over a mass.

What use is this infallibility, again?

Thursday, April 10, 2008


It seems there is an Eastern Orthodox bishop believes God would not be so cruel as to condemn people to hell for eternity:

In a stunning ecumenical moment at the Catholic Church's first-ever World Congress on Divine Mercy, Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeye, bishop of Vienna and Austria, told a rapt audience of 8,000 that God's love places no limit on his mercy toward humanity, even to the point of imposing a temporal limit on hell.

Quoting St. Isaac the Syrian, a 7th-century holy man revered in Russian Orthodoxy as "famous among saints," Bishop Hilarion noted that "God does nothing out of retribution. Even to think that way about God would be blasphemous. Even worse is the opinion that God allows people to lead a sinful life on earth in order to punish them eternally after death. This is a blasphemous and perverted understanding of God, a calumny of God."

I think that much of the OT is difficult for the more mystical strains of Orthodoxy to swallow. From the quote supplied "God does nothing out of retribution. Even to think that way about God would be blasphemous. Even worse is the opinion that God allows people to lead a sinful life on earth in order to punish them eternally after death. This is a blasphemous and perverted understanding of God, a calumny of God."

The problem is that there are a lot of readings in the Scriptures which state explicitly that God does take vengeance on the sinner, repays, he repays Israel for her sins, he is pitiless (Ezekiel 7) etc. If my theology asserts something else despite these repeated examples, well, I suppose I have to re-evaluate my theology instead of re-imagining the deposit of faith to fit into my notions of what is or is not a calumny towards God.

I am honestly at a loss as to how a bishop--someone educated in godliness, can come to the conclusion that hell is temporary--unless the Scriptures simply don't mean much to him despite traditional Orthodoxy's claims to the contrary that the Scriptures are quite important indeed. The fact is that we have it on good authority that the damned will go away to eternal punishment. If that makes someone squeamish because it sounds mean, or unjust, or violates their sense of what God ought to be like, so be it. Just admit you are not apophatic, and that theology trumps the Scriptures, Tradition, and everything else.

Eternal damnation is what our Lord has taught by his own words, and throughout the Scriptures. It is in the Old and New Testaments, it is supported by the great majority of the Fathers, it has pretty much been widely believed throughout the centuries--except perhaps among speculative theologians. If "Scriptures+Tradition" or "Holy Tradition" do not establish this, they pretty much do not establish anything at all, including other basic tenets of the faith.

(Via TheologyWeb)


I found this other article from Bp. Hilarion. In it he states:

"On the one hand, it is impossible for one to actively repent in hell; it is impossible to rectify the evil deeds one committed by appropriate good works. However, it may be possible for one to repent through a ‘change of heart’, a review of one’s values. One of the testimonies to this is the rich man of the Gospel we have already mentioned. He realized the gravity of his situation as soon as found himself in hell. Indeed, if in his lifetime he was focused on earthly pursuits and forgot God, once in hell he realized that his only hope for salvation was God[76] . Besides, according to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, the fate of a person after death can be changed through the prayer of the Church. Thus, existence after death has its own dynamics. On the basis of what has been said above, we may say that after death the development of the human person does not cease, for existence after death is not a transfer from a dynamic into a static being, but rather continuation on a new level of that road which a person followed in his lifetime."

To be fair to the bishop, he does not claim this as a dogma of the Church.

So, it seems the bishop claims one can repent through a change of heart, in hell, after death. My only critique of his scriptural example of the Rich Man, is that we are told there is a wide gulf between the Bosom of Abraham and hell, and that his relatives have Moses and the Prophets. In other words, the "change of heart" didn't seem to work, and Christ did not say he had any hope.